Cupules as a Rock Art form (Rock Art of Sedona)

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V-Bar-V Ranch

One rock art form that is often overlooked is called cupules. These cupules are small, bowl-shaped depressions that have been pecked, pounded or ground into a rock surface. They would remind you of a mortar used for grinding spices or medication except that true cupules are found on vertical walls and boulders rather than a horizontal surface. These cupules are found worldwide and when I visited the V-Bar-V Ranch site many of these small depressions were present. There are 69 petroglyphs containing cupules in the figures head and/or heart. This particular site has the largest concentration of petroglyphs containing cupules in the Verde Valley and is believed to have been a significant ceremonial area. California, Southern Arizona and Utah have numerous cupule sites but the exact function of cupules is unclear.

It has been supposed that cupules could have symbolic or ceremonial functions. In some native cultures cupules are used as part of “women’s puberty, birth, and fertility rites.” These “Thunder rocks”, as referred to in some California areas, are used in rain dance ceremonies and in some instances astronomical events.*

Other suggested uses for “cupules” (small, bowl-shaped depressions that have been pecked, pounded or ground into a rock surface) are as boundary markers and healing practices. The Hopi of Northern Arizona have been known to visit an ill patient and “grind a cupule-like depression in the wall of the pueblo. The depression is then filled with prayer (corn) meal” and the appropriate prayer feather inserted into the mixture”.*

The Zuni in New Mexico, have been known to visit sacred cupule boulders and grind into the boulder and use the resulting dust in a drink to insure female fertility (eating earth substances is named geophagy). Churches in Germany and France with cupules on their walls have reported people grinding holes in the stones and drinking the powder to cure fever, impotency, and sickness.*

*Rock Art of Sedona by Verda Valley Archaeology Center, p. 5