Rock Art of the Lower Pecos

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Rock Art of the Lower Pecos. CAROLYN E. BOYD. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 2003. 139 pp., 2 tables, 60 figs., 5 color plates. $45.00 (hardback), ISBN 1-58544-259-3.

Reviewed by Carol Diaz-Granados

In Rock Art of the Lower Pecos, Carolyn Boyd puts forth a cogent argument in support of interpretation of prehistoric pictographs, using "the most abundant and well-preserved art in the region" (p. 19). Her methodology and line of reasoning are sound, the result of years of research on lower Pecos rock art. It is chapters 4 and 5 in particular that make this book a valuable study on the prehistoric hunter-gatherers of the lower Pecos River region and the painted images they left behind. In spite of the occasional contradictory statements and redundancies, and a few other lesser problems, Boyd has produced a vigorous work. My criticisms, which are essentially minor, in no way diminish the value of this publication.

The book is divided into six chapters. In chapter 1, Boyd introduces her primary objectives, which are reasonable and achieved. Although it has been debated ad nauseam, I appreciate her discussion of "Is it art?" or "Art" in Western vs. non-Western societies, because this is a ponderous consideration when dealing with pre-historic American Indian petroglyphs and pictographs. Furthermore, it is an avenue seldom considered when addressing other archaeological materials which display pictorial attributes that can be analyzed with regard to style as well as possible subject matter. In chapter 2, Boyd sets the stage for the occurrence of rock art in the lower Pecos River region with an overview of the environment. She also covers the local cultures and time periods and includes radiocarbon dates obtained on the pigments.

In the third chapter, Boyd explains her research design and offers an analysis of five Lower Pecos rock art panels and three recurring motifs. Much of this chapter dwells on her method of redrawing the pictographs. She criticizes the value of photographic evidence, and this is an area with which I disagree. Nothing quite equals the value of high-quality, scaled photographs and slides. Although a few black-and-white photographs are included, Boyd has produced mostly drawings in black and white with a section devoted to her color renderings.

These color renderings, with their attention to detail, are impressive. Boyd first emphasizes details, then later states that the details are not important, stressing rather the relationship and placement of "elements" and "motifs." Boyd's color renderings are artistic works in themselves and definitely help the reader to view the imagery in its totality and under optimal conditions. In fact, the color drawings convey a "just painted" appearance regarding these well-preserved lower Pecos images. The only thing missing from the color renderings is the feeling for the actual context of placement, the contours, the texture of the stone canvas, and its inherent imperfections (except for an occasional indication). In emphasizing that the redrawing of the pictographs is the only way to go, Boyd neglects to mention that the rendering of a panel, or "a rendering of a rendering," is most likely going to introduce human biases because of variations in perception. Nevertheless, the drawings are effective and add a special dimension to the book. It would have been interesting to see a comparison between a color photograph of a panel and its color rendering. …