Ancient American inscriptions, Plow Marks or History is a book
published in response to the work of Dr. Barry Fell. The participating authors attempt to
refute some of Dr. Fell's epigraphic findings. The case they make against the Inyo Zodiac
and accompanying Arabic inscription is addressed herein.
My search for research materials concerning the INY-272 petroglyph
site exposed the little known work of Clifford Park Baldwin, ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXPLORATION
AND SURVEY OF SOUTHERN INYO COUNTY.(1) This was the source for much of the Eastern
California material published in Heizer and Baumhoff's PREHISTORIC ROCK ART OF NEVADA
AND EASTERN CALIFORNIA.(2) In an oversight, Clifford Baldwin was not credited in the
publication. It was copies of Baldwin's drawings that Dr. Robert Heizer provided Dr. Barry
Fell to work from as better sketches of the material presented in the Rock Art book. One
page of Baldwin's work has become the center for quite a controversy. He labeled it fig. 5
and in a reduced form the same drawing appears as Fig. F-19 a, on page 358 of Heizer's
Rock Art book.
Please excuse my notes. They were written while exploring
Inyo, long before I was aware this controversy ever existed.
Dr. Fell had recognized the upper two lines of the drawing to be a
badly drawn, not quite illegible, script of Arabic origin called Kufic. The lower two
lines of the drawing appeared to be an eight segment zodiac. He published his findings in
the popular book, SAGA AMERICA(3) and a paper in the EPIGRAPHIC SOCIETY
OCCASIONAL PUBLICATIONS.(4) A recent publication, ANCIENT AMERICAN INSCRIPTIONS:
Plow marks or History?(5) (AAI) by McGlone, Leonard, Guthrie, Gillespie and Whittall
takes exception to Dr. Fell's findings and rejects his decipherment as
"unacceptable". One of the editors of ESOP, Jon Polansky, is listed as a
contributor. It is of interest to note however, that the Arab professors of the
University of Tripoli did not question the decipherment. They included it in the Arabic
language edition of Saga America which was awarded the Arab Prize for History in 1980.
In the process of making a negative appraisal of the decipherment, the work of Clifford
Baldwin comes under particular scrutiny. The appraisal constructed in AAI was made without
the knowledge that the Eastern California Museum in Independence, California had the
relevant and site specific field notes of the Baldwin expedition. Clifford Park Baldwin
was an archaeologist who was hired by the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, California. In
1931, Inyo County and the Southwest Museum cosponsored his explorations in the southern
portion of Inyo County. On October 30, he and his party spent the morning and early part
of the afternoon exploring and recording Inyo, a petroglyph group near Keeler, California.
He called it the Swansea Group. He and his assistants recorded what he labeled as fig. 5
and described it (combined with figures 6, 7 and 8) as being located "...on the cliff
face and on nearby boulders scattered about."
Once Dr. Fell published his decipherment, a search was made to locate
the inscription. At the time, the original source of the work had been forgotten and the
existence of the field notes was unknown. Several casual attempts to locate the
inscription were made and finally in 1984 L. J. Dewald assisted by Burrell Dawson, Vincent
Yoder, Dave Scott, Roger Cox and Tony Wright located the upper two lines of what was drawn
in Baldwin's fig. 5. Dewald's 1985 submission to The Epigraphic Society Occasional
Publications(6) confirms the existence of the upper two lines and suggests that the
zodiac may not exist as shown in Figure F-19 a, but be a record of individual designs
located in the area.
Without the benefit of the Dewald teams experience (or Baldwin's
field notes), I located the Kufic portion of the inscription in 1989. It was immediately
apparent that whomever made the sketch had, for the sake of neatness or space, arranged
the patterns into two rows. In reality, the inscriptions meander from near ground level on
the right edge of the wall to six feet high on the left. Not only that, but there appeared
to be more inscribed areas on the wall than presented on the drawing, a lot more.
Confusing the issue, portions had been refreshed and/or modified but not in modern times.
The wall appeared to have been worked and reworked several times. Even the reworked
portions showed signs of weathering and long exposure. The antiquity is simply undeniable.
I found the Eastern California Museum's copies of Baldwin's
manuscripts in 1990 and quickly recognized the sketches as the source for the Heizer and
Baumhoff material. The presentation made in the Rock Art book was scaled down and
difficult to work with, but the original sketch was much better detailed and defined. With
a good copy of Baldwin's fig. 5. I went back to Inyo to try to figure out just how he had
made his determination. It was not coincidence that I returned on October 30.
The inscription is pecked on a grey to beige dolomite marble wall,
sculpted and worn by wave action long ago. The wall is patinated with a rough crystalline
surface and has a granular texture acquired by the erosion of softer surface stone
exposing harder crystal structure. Most of the numerous inscribed areas share the same
coloration and texture as the eroded surface. In late October the morning light sidelights
the inscribed work making shadows on the edges and increasing the visibility of the
petroglyphs considerably over direct (afternoon) lighting. Comparing the newly acquired
sketch to the actual wall it was obvious that Baldwin was quite selective in what he
Of all the items on the wall, why had Baldwin chosen to record what
he did? The authors of AAI ask the same question and leave it unanswered, but the answer
is quite simple. Baldwin viewed the mass of work present and chose to record the items (or
patterns) that shared the same pecking marks. The texture created in the pecking process
was relatively undisturbed by the later abraded refreshing that had occurred to portions
of the inscribed areas. Apparently, he also used the width of the pecked lines as an
additional determinate. This selectivity allowed him to separate the different ages of
work and record what he believed to be a single identifiable series. He called them,
"...interesting designs..." He had no idea as to the real significance of his
record. Thankfully, he was patient and reasonably accurate.
Nearly 50 years passed then Dr. Barry Fell deciphered the upper two
lines of fig. 5 to read, "WHEN THE RAM AND THE SUN ARE IN CONJUNCTION, THEN CELEBRATE
THE FESTIVAL OF THE NEW YEAR". The alphabet and language were Arabic. The
astrological reference of the ram and the sun equate to the timing of the vernal equinox.
Later, Jon Polansky and Alan Gillespie were investigating the possibility (suggested by
Dr. Fell's decipherment) that the site may be a solar observatory. Both had prior
experience with archaeoastronomical observatories. They discovered a six line design that
interacted with a sunlight and shadow display at sunset. This was a marker that clearly
noted the equinox. It is remarkably precise. Additionally, they discovered a May/August
cross-quarter marker and another display that appeared to celebrate the summer solstice.
The site was clearly a significant solar observatory. Eventually, markers were identified
that celebrate the entire eight segment solar year.
One detail, unnoticed by prior researchers, was a small sunsymbol of
a rising sun. This escaped Baldwin's drawing because it was clearly of a different style
and construction. I believe this is additional messaging to direct the viewer that the
event is to take place at sunrise. It is an excellent example of symbolism used for
communication. It works regardless of language. The panel itself is the result of attempts
to make the message of the morning equinox display available to as many People as
Several items that Baldwin chose not to record (or just plain missed)
from the wall he worked on have proven to be significant and by observation, validates the
decipherment made by Dr. Fell. In 1985, Ann and Vincent Yoder accompanied by Margaret and
Burrell Dawson and Jon Polansky discovered a second marker that celebrated the equinox
using a sunlight and shadow display interacting with a pecked design. Located just a few
meters south of the Kufic wall is a low rounded nub of partly buried boulder with a series
of what appears to be roughly concentric circles and other inscriptions pecked on it. What
happens on the equinox is simple, yet elegant. Sunlight filters through a natural fracture
first as a sliver of light, then as the sun rises it develops into a recognizable image
created from sunlight. The solar image actively interacts with the man inscribed work.
This is an important discovery and the usage and content demonstrates the religious belief
of the age of Aries and is unique in construction, application and timing. It is
significant and noteworthy. (See Analysis
of the Animation elsewhere in this presentation.)
The issues raised with concern for letter shapes, words and
definitions by the authors of AAI are themselves seriously questionable. Allow me to quote
a source independent of the controversy, but related to the issue: "However, Arabic
writing at that period [ca. 650 A.D. Ed.], like early notations in Western music, allowed
considerable interpretation; the letters were, in fact, prompters for those who knew the
text. Not only were vowels not written (so that for example, the first part of this
sentence would be read "nt nl wr vwls nt wrttn" [ or "nttrw tn slwv rw ln
tn" Ed.]), but no distinction was made between a number of consonants (for example
between n, t, d, th, y, and b)." (7)
Arabic writing didn't improve much until nearly 1200 A.D. when
Saladin (Salah-ed din Yusuf ibn Ayub) standardized the usage of the modern script. Prior
to that time, both scripts were used and often mixed. Additionally, letters of unique
design and abbreviations were frequently used. Lastly, spelling, in voweled or unvoweled
forms, varied greatly owing to the phonetics employed and lack of dictionary.
The real key in the last quotation was "...prompters for those
who knew the text." Barry Fell was intimately familiar with the text. It was similar
wording to what he deciphered from the Davenport stele.(8) That trilingual stone document
gave Dr. Fell knowledge and familiarity, enough to make the recognition from what he saw
in Baldwin's presentation. It is very likely that the phrase concerning the ram and the
sun had a widespread use in North Africa and North African influenced Iberia. One must
recall that Egypt controlled North Africa and was subject to the influence of Persian and
Babylonian philosophies for many centuries. The maritime trading ventures and subsequent
transmittal of this information by ancient voyagers is evident in finding this text at the
It should be noted that the authors of AAI selectively quoted Saga
America. Dr. Fell addressed the issue of legibility quite well: "However after the
conquest of Tripoli by invading Islamic forces from the east, in 646 AD., most Arabic
writers in North Africa adopted the Kufic alphabet ... It has numerous variant forms, and
inscriptions are sometimes very carelessly written, in other cases (especially on mosques
and royal tombs) engraved with exquisite artistry...". My research suggests that the
script was probably introduced to North Africa significantly in advance to the spread of
Islam by traders and travelers. The spread of Islam was along well traveled trade routes,
by land or sea.
The inscription under discussion was the first Arabic found on the site.
It is clearly pre-Islamic in content and context. Another inscription was found by this
author and submitted to Dr. Fell for translation. He reported it to be the signature of
Zaiid Mohammed. The name implies a post-Islamic timeframe. But, the "Z" was
backwards according to my references. This was most curious. Then I saw the same style
backwards Z coming from an Arabic alphabet from an island off the coast of India. The
alphabet of the Inyo inscription was obviously maritime and transmitted by ship.
I have in my possession five different alphabets called Kufi (Kufic
or Cufi) and many more samples of the script ranging from drawings of petroglyphs from
Yemen to photographs of the walls of a Spanish mosque. The range of style is every bit as
great as Dr. Fell states. What was recorded by Baldwin at Inyo contained just enough
literacy to deliver to Dr. Fell an understandable message.