The Mug, The Moon Faces and the Goats
By John H. Rudolph
While attending the Utah Rock Art Research Association Symposium in Moab, UT three years ago, I bought a handsome mug with a well-known petroglyph printed on one side of the mug. The legend read, "Nine Mile Canyon, Eastern Utah." Nine Mile Canyon is actually almost 60 miles long, running from near Wellington in a northeast direction to the Green River. In early times the canyon must have been heavily populated as there is a river the full length with verdant benches and steep cliffs providing good defensive positions. The cliffs are richly embellished with petroglyphs, one of which was copied on my mug.
Fig. 1 “Hunting Scene” at Nine Mile Canyon, Utah
As you can see from Fig 1, this panel consists of lines of "goats," noses to tails with several figures with bows and arrows and some enigmatic figures imbedded in the lines of "goats." This panel has been interpreted as "a hunting scene," but why spend so much time and effort describing what was an ordinary activity in the lives of the native people? The more I drank tea from my mug and took time to examine the figures, the more I wondered if this scene had some deeper meaning.
Fig. 2 Moon Faces on the Agate Pass Petroglyph, Bainbridge
You may recall that I published my interpretation of the "Agate Pass Petroglyph Stone," (see Fig. 2) situated here on the northeast corner of Bainbridge Island. Because this stone serves as a station point where an observer can watch the equinox sunrises directly out of the Skykomish Canyon across Puget Sound, I believe that the faces pecked into the Nine Mile Canyon stone represent full Moons that occur each lunar month as the year progresses. In Fig. 2,if one calls the farthest right hand face the Moon occurring near the Summer Solstice “our June” and the next ones to the left, "July" and "August," one arrives at the sunburst that represents the Autumnal Equinox of our "September." Moving farther to the left are " October," "November," and finally at the far left end, "December," with the story of the Raven rescuing the Sun, the Moon and the stars from the Magician's lodge. Just as the Sun moves northwards from the winter solstice position, we can call the moonface with the crown "January," the next one "February" followed by the sunburst indicating the Vernal Equinox. Moving to the right we can call these Moon faces our "April" and "May" and finally back to our "June" and the Summer Solstice full Moon.
In the "Hunting Scene" shown in Fig. 1, there is a count similar to the Moon faces in Fig. 2. In the top line of animals, beginning at the left end, we have three, all connected. If we make the assumption that each animal stands for a lunar month, we can start with our "June," "July" and "August." The next figure is an armless horned entity of some importance representing the Autumnal Equinox, "September." A serpentine line of six lobes connects to the next animal, "October," followed by "November" and "December." Then, as happens in some years, there is an extra Moon.
The Winter Solstice is a dangerous time because if the Sun kept going farther and farther the world might became totally dark. The large hour-glass figure armed with a bow and arrow, leaning in a threatening posture toward the line of animals, can be what we call "Orion," complete with a prominent phallus instead of the classic sword. It guards against the danger of the Sun not turning back from the Winter Solstice, and thus keeps the cycle of the year. "Orion" does appear in the winter sky at a time appropriate to guard against the Sun's escape. Ignoring the extra Moon, the "blue" Moon, we can begin to count the remaining months from "December." Proceeding to the left we have "January," "February," and back to "March," the horned figure marking the Vernal Equinox. Then moving again to the left, we have "April," "May" and back to "June" again, completing the yearly round.
The lower lines of animal figures are not as clear as the upper line, but seem to represent the entire year of lunar appearances. Beginning at the left again, we have a diminutive "goat" that could represent, in each case, a small new crescent Moon. Each large "goat" has a small companion, and again, the figures are connected. In this array, the count begins at the left with new crescent and full Moon, "June," "July," and "August" leading to a round figure with a square head for the Autumnal Equinox of "September." This entity has a "goat" attached that may indicate the Moon of "September." The round figure with the belly band merely indicates the equinox. Moving to the next lower line we can find "October," "November," "December," "January," and "February." Then the bottom line has “March," "April," “May," and "June" with a rectangular figure with a half circle on each side marking the end of the year. Below is a single "goat" that may be the "sometime" extra "blue" Moon. To the right there seem to be several armed bowmen and a round figure (possibly with a round shield) preventing the groups of "animals," representing Moons in this interpretation, from getting out of order.
One glyph that I have no explanation for is the lower half of a human figure just to the left of "Orion." I can only hope that this article will stimulate the reader to look deeply into the petroglyph panels found throughout the world. It is evident that they are metaphorical and may well have layers of meaning.