The areas of Picketwire Canyon and Picture Canyon contain most of these carvings and have also been studied by archaeologists, as well as independent researchers. Picture canyon in particular received its name from the many prehistoric rock art images carved on its walls.
The rock art of Picture Canyon consists mainly of petroglyphs and pictographs, with the former dominating. Petroglyphs are usually found on the vertical sandstone walls of the canyon, depicting different anthropomorphic and zoomorphic designs, hoof prints, vulvas, grooves and seemingly abstract images.
Petroglyphs at Picture Canyon
Back in the 1970s, several researchers, led by a retired engineer Bill McGlone, extensively studied different rock carvings in this area, and found out that many sites had archaeoastronomical significance.
The research was then picked up by Carl Lehrburger, a renewable energy entrepreneur, researcher and author who has studied archaeological and sacred sites in the Americas for over 25 years, culminating in his book Secrets of Ancient America.
According to this author, there are several dozen petroglyphs with solar alignments in the area around the Purgatoire River alone, but not all of them of the same importance. This article focuses on three sites in the area of the southeast Colorado and the neighboring Oklahoma Panhandle that were found to have carvings with significant equinox alignments.
Pathfinder is a prehistoric rock art site located in Picture Canyon. The site consists of approximately a 40 x 12 foot sandstone panel with adjoining boulders that create a cave-like enclosure. The East facing panel is filled with several dozens of petroglyphs (estimated to be around 2000 years old) that are divided into 3 main subpanels, each depicting a story. A sketch of the panel can be seen here.
References to Sacred Sexuality in the Pathfinder Light Animation
The site has two prominent equinox alignments, one morning sunrise alignment where the sun aligns with the leaf or vulva-shaped petroglyph, and another interesting noon alignment where a long sun dagger gradually moves through a series of petroglyphic images to enact a story. This light animation, or sometimes called heliolithic animation, is considered to be one of the earliest known solar alignments involving petroglyphs in North America.
The following short video by Scott Monahan (an explorer of archaeoastronomy sites and Ogham found in America and an independent documentary maker), shows the 2 equinox alignments of the Pathfinder site:
Carl Lehrburger, the discoverer of the noon alignment and researcher into the ancient petroglyphs describes his observation of the movements of the sun dagger in the following way:
“The first equinox noontime “target” was the Suncatcher glyph. This glyph has explicit sexual connotations and apparent association with human genitalia and the act of copulation. On the equinox, the point of light of the sun dagger and the tip of the Suncatcher glyph precisely line up…
The next target of the descending sun dagger was an abstract human-looking anthropomorphic figure whose elements were at first difficult to discern. However, a later analysis of my digital photographs revealed a spread-legged figure with a protrusion inside her body cavity, as if she were pregnant. The figure held a disc in one hand, and her left foot rested near the head of a clearly pecked serpent. As I watched, the point of light descended through the panel and, after passing through the Suncatcher glyph, it intersected with the genital area of the spread-legged figure in such a precise manner that its meaning could not be missed.
The Pathfinder light-animation sequence entails the sun dagger precisely intersecting with at least four petroglyphs. Over a ninety-minute period, after beginning with the sun dagger striking the tip of the Suncatcher glyph and traveling through the spread-legged anthropomorphic figure, it engulfed the Snake petroglyph at her feet, and finally struck a second anthropomorphic figure near his phallus.
After passing through the first anthropomorphic glyph, the head of the serpent below her feet becomes illuminated by the sun dagger. As the ray of light moves across the panel, first the head and then the entire body of the snake becomes engulfed by sun. The occurrence of the pecked serpent and its inclusion in the pathfinder noontime equinox heliolithic animation reinforces the ancient worldwide association between snakes and the equinox, which is also seen at the pyramid of Chicken Itza, at Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico and in the Light Serpent animation at California site.”
~ Carl Lehrburger, Secrets of Ancient America.
Phillip M. Leonard, a retired military professional, medical researcher and author of several books on ancient America made a suggestion that the Pathfinder equinox animation may be a re-enactment of the traditional creation story of the Navajo goddess Changing Woman, the mother of mankind who becomes impregnated by the rays of the sun, giving birth to the twin warrior brothers. She is known as the mother of the children of the Sun.
The connection of the autumn equinox to the sacred sexuality and the time of gestation has also been mentioned by Belsebuub and Angela Pritchard in their book The Path of the Spiritual Sun, where they write:
“The ninth sphere is also the womb in which the Son/Christ gestates. At autumn, the seeds produced at summer die and then begin to germinate beneath the earth; the descent into the nine layers of the underworld symbolises the gestation of the Son in the womb of earth over nine months, before being born at the winter solstice.”
Interestingly, nine horseshoe-shaped glyphs have been found at one of the Pathfinder subpanels, arranged on top of each other. These “hoofprints”, as they are often called by archaeologists, are believed to represent female sexual organs in the prehistoric art, and it has been suggested that arranged in this manner they refer to the nine months of gestation.
Crack Cave is also located in Picture Canyon, just north of the Colorado / Oklahoma border. It was formed when a large boulder broke away from the steep sandstone cliffs, forming a narrow crevice after which it was named.
On equinox sunrise, the sun’s rays penetrate the cave entrance, illuminating the hand-pecked lines engraved on a small protrusion on the north cave wall, about 15 feet from the entrance. The petroglyphs stay illuminated for about 10 minutes before the light fades away.
A photo of the sun illuminating the inscription inside the cave on equinox day can be seen in one of the feature slides on this website, as part of a preview of a forthcoming documentary called Sacred Equinox, set to be released in 2017, highlighting America’s equinox petroglyphs and pictographs.
The phenomenon was discovered in 1976 by a retired engineer Bill McGlone who spent many years studying the rock art near his home in La Junta and was first to suggest that the inscriptions may be Ogham – an ancient Celtic form of writing used in Ireland between 400 and 100 AD. He taught himself the ancient script and made a revealing translation of the engravings that reads as “The Sun strikes here on the day of Bel”.
Bel, short for Belenus, is a Sun God in Celtic mythology; one of the most ancient and widely revered Celtic deities. This solar deity is sometimes referred to as The Shining One, or The Fair One, and he is associated with the horse and the wheel (often used as a symbol for the sun’s spiritual journey cycle through the year).
There is a parallel here with another site in the US, in Salem, New Hampshire. Mystery Hill, nicknamed America’s Stonehenge, was found to have alignments both to solar events and to the day of the Celtic sun deity Bel.
In addition to the above-mentioned equinox engraving, there are two more carvings inside the cave, one reading as “GriaN” – a Celtic name for the sun, and another “aoiS GriaN”, meaning “People of the Sun”.
Note: While the consonants have been carved as lines, the vowels have been interpreted based on the dipthongs (angled lines) and other methods as the early Ogham was mostly a vowelless type of writing.
In his book Secrets of Ancient America, Carl Lehrburger writes:
“According to my guides, Bel and Grian are Celtic deities relating to the sun, and they are noted in the Celtic inscriptions at Crack cave. The Ogham grouping of lines for Bel appears in at least three locations, and Grian is found at six locations in southeastern Colorado. While Grian is thought by some to be a Celtic solar goddess who was considered to be the queen of the waxing year, others claim it is solely a feminine word for the sun.”
Directions to Picture Canyon
The cave is equipped with a metal door to protect it from vandalism and is open for public only twice a year during equinoxes, when the forest service of the Comanche National Grasslands leads a free guided tour into it. For more details on the equinox tours, contact the Comanche Springfield office at 719-523-6591.
Southeast Colorado and Oklahoma Panhandle – An Area of Ancient Sun Worship
Crack cave is only one of several sites in the Southeast Colorado that contain Ogham writing with the references to the Celtic sun deities, suggesting the links to Old Europe. The area spreads even further south, beyond the Colorado border to the Oklahoma Panhandle, where a complex of prehistoric caves with archaeoastronomically aligned carvings has been found.
This complex is a series of five sandstone caves clustered together, with eroded windows connecting three of them. Every cave in the complex contains engravings that are different than the petroglyphs found in the other sites of the region. The carvings have been dated to approximately 2000 years before present, using the indirect carbon-14 dating.
The name of the caves has been derived from the most elaborate inscriptions found in Cave 2 that depict a dog-like figure identified as the Egyptian jackal-god Anubis, together with a depiction of a Sun-God identified as Mithras.
At the time of equinox sunset, the shadow in the form of a thumb pointer proceeds from the bottom of the panel, diagonally slices the cube on which the Sun god is standing, and then fills the “vertical sun” or “dangling sun” image to the right, while the head of the Sun God, including his crown of rays, gradually falls into the shadow, mimicking the setting sun. At the same time, the entire image of Anubis, including his flail, gets illuminated. The light show lasts only a few minutes, before the shadow covers the entire panel.
“On days of the equinoxes, a group of petroglyphs in a small cave are lighted successively by the sun, much as actors on a stage are spotlighted in an opera. Finally, just at sunset, after the other figures have been eclipsed by the shadow, only what we interpret as Anubis, the Egyptian jackal god, is left in sunshine on the cave wall.”
~ Phillip M. Leonard, A New World Monument to Mithras
This heliolithic animation can be seen in the following video from the H2 History channel (2013), showing the equinox sunset alignment at the Anubis caves (just until the 40:42 mark of the video):
Interestingly, related Ogham inscriptions have been found at the site, which were translated in a following way:
“Buail Inpu h-uideal”
“May Anubis wield the flail”
“Ata a lam bag uilg”
“And may his arm be a hindrance to evil”
A combination of Ogham and an ancient Libyan script brought out a translation that closely describes the heliolithic animation happening at the panel of this cave on each equinox sunset.
“Fios Carnaich Baaghal uiru daigea gead”
“Instructions for the Druid. In clear weather the projecting piece of rock eclipses the blaze at sunset. This shadow will reach nearly to the jaw of the image of the jackal divinity.”
And another inscription in the ancient Libyan script that reads:
“Ata Laila dayan Bel, yafida natans.”
“Enact at sunset the rites of Bel, assembling at that time in worship.”
Ogham inscriptions in this cave were translated as:
“Grian aig Bel Mionach umih ele Lio-Meadh eabh aig Bel”
“The sun belongs to Bel – This cavern on the days of the equinox is for the chanting of prayers to Bel.”
Note: Some researchers suggest that Ogham originated in Lybia or Egypt, and was only later taken to Ireland by the monks. The Ogham found in the petroglyph sites of Colorado and Oklahoma also looks like a more simple/archaic version of the Irish Ogham.
The inscriptions, together with the engravings indicate that the caves were a place of sacred rites and solar worship. A natural stone throne was also found in a corner of cave 4 facing the west, making it an ideal place for the prayers as the sun sets on the day of equinox.
The petroglyph light animations of the rock art sites of the southeastern Colorado and Northern Oklahoma, together with sites like Chaco Canyon highlight the importance that the ancient people placed on the Sun in a spiritual and cyclical sense.
The figures of the Sun god and jackal god Anubis in particular, together with mentioning of the Sun deities in the Ogham writings show the sun-oriented spirituality of the people who made the carvings. The light animations of the three sites also show the importance of the equinox in the spiritual sense, as according to the ancient texts prayers were encouraged on that day, as well as carrying out sacred ceremonies.
Writing and Research by Lucia Beznik. Co-research and editing by Jenny Resnick.
Lehrburger, Carl. Secrets of ancient America: archaeoastronomy and the legacy of the Phoenicians, Celts, and other forgotten explorers. (Rochester, VT: Bear & Company, 2015).
http://onter.net/biblio/lehrburger3.pdf – Anubis Caves
Belsebuub and Angela Pritchard, The Path of the Spiritual Sun: Celebrating the Solstices and Equinoxes (Mystical Life Publications, revised second edition, July 2017).