The Columbia Plateau Region

The rock art of the western coastal plains of the Columbia Plateau region has been discussed by Keyser (1992). This region extends from eastern British Columbia from the Fraser to the Alberta border and the states of Washington, Oregon, western Montana, and Idaho.

The presence of four-sided stars, rayed circles, and occasionally a concentric series of circles and a circle with a central dot suggest astronomical symbolism, but these forms are relatively rare in the region. The presence of shadow effects at any of these sites is not discussed and may deserve investigation in light of the importance such hierophanies seem to have had in the southwest.

Although little is discussed of the astronomical significance of the sites, the range of styles and their distributions in space and time make the summary a valuable one in gaining insights into the nature and purpose of the pictographs and petro-glyphs in this area (see, especially, Keyser's Fig. 2). The presence of bows and arrows, which were introduced into the region ~500 a.d. or so, rather than atlatls, for example, provides for a relative dating; similarly, the introduction of the horse into the area in the late 17th century, ultimately from Spanish sources, dates depictions of horses. The presence of a face with large, ringed eye sockets and often toothy grin is associated with a death cult, which arose after postcontact diseases began to destroy large numbers of people. At least one of the figures is identified as that of the ogress Tsagiglalal, "She Who Watches"; as Keyser (1992, p. 101) reports the words of a Wishram woman shaman, "People grin like that when they are sick ... when people look at you like that, you get sick." Keyser (1992, p. 102) suggests that because the power of the shamans to drive out evil spirits proved completely powerless against the new illnesses, the people developed a special guardian spirit to deal with their helplessness. As Keyser (1992) eloquently notes, "On the cliffs above their ancient villages, Tsagiglalal still watches—mute testimony to the agony of a vanished people."

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