Michael Fuller

Last horned serpent, a large triangle above it, and the rattle tail.

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dStretch image (filter LDS) of the red and black figure painted on the ceiling. Scale is 20 cm. The oversized outline of a head in black pigment resembles two spirit heads given to decapitated bodies in panel 4 of Picture Cave 1

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dStretch of the first horned serpent, black pigment bird, and second horned serpent attacking the bird.

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A red pictograph of six horned serpents "enechelon" is the very striking feature at this Mississippi Period rock art site. Scale is 20 cm; pictograph measures 96.5 cm (38 inches) in length. A drawing of the pictograph as a single serpent without the rattle tail was published by Diaz-Granados (1993:Figure 21.2e) in her dissertation; the same drawing was used in two subsequent publications (Diaz-Granados and Duncan 2000:Figure 5.39 and Duncan and Diaz-Granados 2004:Figure 12.30). In all cases the drawing is captioned as "horned serpent"; it was also termed "a metaphor for a comet or shooting star" (Diaz-Granados and Duncan 2000:202). The horned serpent identification is absolutely correct. I see six serpent heads instead of just one. The comet or shooting star metaphor actually works for several beautiful red pictographs on the ceiling of the shelter, but not this panel.  Iconography of the Horned Serpent is a powerful metaphor in the ancient art of both MesoAmerican and the American Southwest (Coltman 2015).

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View of the Groeper Shelter site. A meter scale stands vertical against a breakdown block in the center of the photograph. The 6 horned serpents are painted on the wall directly behind the meter scale. A large petroglyph of nested circles is situated on the breakdown block next to the meter scale. 


This large rockshelter was formed  in the St. Peters Sandstone. A small natural pool of water is formed outside the overhang after rainstorms. A cluster of red ochre and black charcoal pictographs are painted on the walls and ceiling; they are found only in the southeast arm of the shelter. The site is located on private property, not open to the public, and very difficult to reach because of its isolated location. 

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1    2    3    4    5    6    Rattle     

Relationship of the larger serpent and six horned serpents in Groeper Shelter (23WN1177). My first impression is that it is like a proud gahi'ge (Osage, "the Great One; the Chief" based upon LaFlesche (1932:45)) greeting the dodon hintonga watsegthin (Osage, "Returning victorious war party" based upon LaFlesche (1932:37)).

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dStretch image (filter YRD) of the second, larger serpent that measures 155 cm (61 inches) in length.

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A series of faint pictographs in carbon are painted near the mouth of horned serpents 1, 2, 3, and 4. In fact, each serpent has "caught" a black figure in its mouth.

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Groeper Shelter (23WN1177)

Large petroglyph with concentric circles (often considered a Sun symbol) carved into the vertical face of a breakdown block, just a few meters away from the pictograph of the horned serpents. Scale is 1 meter.

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Two more dStretch (filters IDS and IBK) of the black bird, six horned serpents, and their prey. The bird above the six horned serpents could be harassing the serpents for raiding its nest.

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dStretch filter YBK gives a little more detail on the black pictograph figures caught by the horned serpents. The black pigment, stick-like legs under Serpent 3 looks like the crane pictographs at Picture Cave and Graham Cave. The black pictograph being attacked by Serpent 2 is problematic but could easily be a bird in flight. 

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dStretched image using filter YRE that darkens and sharpens the red ochre painting on the wall of Groeper Shelter. The six horned serpents finds a close parallel in the Spiro Mound engraved shell cup illustrated by Henry Hamilton (1952: 70, Plate 110). The Spiro engraved cup with 4 horned, winged serpents could easily be thought as representing the cardinal directions. The symbolism of 6 serpents could be the cardinal directions, up, and down.

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First horned serpent, black pigment bird, and second horned serpent attacking the bird.

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A second, larger serpent in faint red pigment slithers with open mouth towards the 6 horned serpents with their prey. Scale is 20 cm.

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A curving red pictograph terminating in a bi-lobed arrow (?) painted on the ceiling of Groeper Shelter (23WN1177). Another bird-like red pictograph can be seen on the lower left quarter of the image. Numerous black pigment figures can be seen on the lower right quarter of the image; all are very faint but have bird-like form.

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Red figure with a black pigment halo where the head should be situated; this pictograph that was painted on the ceiling of the cave. This pictograph illustrated by Carol Diaz-Granados (1993:Figure 21.3c) as a drawing in her dissertation. Scale is 20 cm.

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dStretched closeup image of the rattle tail of the last horned serpent. A black pigment oval is positioned by its mouth. The triangle above the last horned serpent is clearly intentional, but not easily explained.

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One of several dozen pictographs on the wall and ceiling that are not immediately recognizable. Using dStretch did not provide any additional insights into this pictograph.

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Bibliography



Coltman, Jeremy D.

2015  In the Realm of the Witz': Animate Rivers and Rulership among the Classic Maya. PARI Journal 15(3):15-20.

http://www.mesoweb.com/pari/publications/journal/1503/Coltman2015.pdf


Diaz-Granados, Carol

1993 The Petroglyphs and Pictographs of Missouri: A Distributional, Stylistic, Contextual, Functional and Temporal Analysis of the State's Rock Graphics. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Washington University , St. Louis, Missouri.

Diaz-Granados, Carol and James Duncan

2000 Petroglyphs and Pictographs of Missouri. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Duncan, James and Carol Diaz-Granados

2004 Empowering the SECC: The “Old Woman” and Oral Tradition in The Rock Art of Eastern North America. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.


LaFlesche, Francis

1932. A Dictionary of the Osage Language. Smithsonian Institution, Washington.