Did They Get It? A Treasure Sign Analysis

Glyphs in the desert are not rare. The dry climate and lack of vegetation mean that any human activity, no matter how long ago, has a good chance of being recognized by the experienced observer to this very day. Artifacts dating back thousands of years are routinely seen sitting atop the clean desert sands, as are copious amounts of petrified wood and even the occasional fossil. So it is with a set of local glyphs that have, for some reason, proven especially intriguing. Who knows how long these most curious glyphs have stood up to the sun, wind, and flash floods in their innocent arroyo just a stone’s throw from a busy interstate highway. A modern highway that, as many do, shadows a much more ancient route, flowing as it does parallel to the ancient and storied Jornada Del Muerto.

Likely colonial Spanish treasure glyph along the Camino Real (Jornada del Muerto section)

Certainly, the locality had once been the haunt of Spanish conquistadores in the late 1500’s, followed by more missionaries an commerce in the 1600’s and 1700’s, and finally Mexicans and Americans in the 1800’s. An exception of this continuous presence is found in the late 1600’s, when the Pueblo Revolt drove the colonial Spanish clear from Santa Fe back to present-day El Paso for a hiatus of nearly a decade; a period of time in which many of the hated Spanish mines were supposedly covered over and hidden by the natives. So, maybe one of these groups had left these atypical markers in the 400 or so years that people have been plying the Jornada. Without a good way to date the glyphs, it must be left to other means to establish their origins.

As a better degree of resolution was required to evaluate the glyphs, whoever the authors had been, and some specialized image-processing software was used to try and pull off something like the move-magic image enhancement that is made to seem so easy and universally effective. As fortune had it, which is about 10% of the time based on several years of experience, a degree of additional resolution was forthcoming. The many false-color processed results achieved seemed to reveal some details in the curious glyphs with more certainty.

Suspected colonial Spanish treasure sign enhanced with advanced image processing.

The glyphs, once revealed, could likely still have entirely different meanings to an American in 2010’s than they did to some unknown entity of a very different cultural background 100’s of years ago. The glyphs themselves are situated like an unavoidable signpost in the bottom of a fairly steep arroyo bounded on one side by a vast mesa and the other by a jumble of boulder-strewn and rough minor peaks and canyons. Several casual trips and searching of the general vicinity revealed nothing other than the presence of many ancient native camps, a sole piece of petrified limb cast, and some faint mining prospects of questionable logic from the 1920’s. That is, until some hard-earned experience was added to the mix.

A blind internet request was made of a seasoned Hunter on the off chance that some advice would be forthcoming, and indeed the query paid off. The square area of the set of glyphs was declared to represent a “window”, which of course could mean one of a great number of things, but which is generally meant to indicate a natural arch or maybe doorway-type structure. Interestingly enough, the glyphs themselves were inscribed upon a large boulder that had cracked long ago, in and of itself forming a bit of a separated structure from which one could form an obvious opening or sight-reference. The region in view of the opening had already been searched several times, without much to show.

Oddly, there had been a strange fellow just down canyon, camping in his dilapidated truck camper, present each and every trip to the area over the course of several years. He was a slim, older man, quite reticent to even look at us as we passed by each time up the canyon. His camp, though spare, seemed quite permanent, as he surely was a habitual violator of the old squatter rules. Perhaps he was staying there under the guise of working one of the several quite ridiculous and faint mining claims in the feebly mineralized area. On the most recent journey to the seldom-used canyon, however, the strange fellow who had previously been present each and every time for all trips within the last several years was absent. What could have caused such a stalwart attendant to abandon his post?

Most recently, armed with fresh advice, a more careful examination of the area was undertaken. The window must be found, and some next sign must be identified in order to support the theory that the glyphs were not just dehydration-inspired creations of some idle member of a long-gone tribe that happened to have used uncommon symbology.

Upon farther scrutiny, it was found that one window in the area clearly had a heart-shaped profile as observed from a distance. This window is a bit away from the main glyph signpost, and up a steep, boulder-strewn slope. On the other side of a gap from the window was another interesting structure: a notch. Whether these two apparently natural structures are of importance alone or together is at this point unknown, but searching in their direction, as opposed to any other of the 360 degree compass headings possible from the signpost site, turned out to be productive.

Stone window, or eye, or hoyo, made using a heart-shaped stone and visible from far away.

It was a wide, circuitous route through even more lonely territory that showed the true character of the area. Stumps, ever an enduring sign of previous activity and excellent dating mechanism in the desert southwest, were few and far between; and curiously so in a landscape possessed of such meager timber. Typically, significant modern human activity is accompanied by widespread cutting of timber. The older activity, the more the tree has grown around the old cuts, and the newer the less so; with axe-marks likely pre-dating the more smooth cuts of saws, both hand and combustion-driven. However, ancient native stone-shaping was in evidence everywhere, there was one very old, very large, and very denuded cedar clinging to a steep canyon wall that could have supplied mine timbers in years gone by, as well as a number of modern tunnel claim monuments. Such an abundance of tunnel claims in a feebly mineralized area with no real workings seem obvious sign of hunting for something other than a natural vein.

Eventually, someone’s idea of a more specific interpretation of the glyph panel became very clear. For in the very top of the adjacent hill, in an area quite devoid of any useful mineralization, was an excavation that could only have been the product of a serious and concerted effort. The timbered shaft may have been covered with brush at one time to conceal it a bit, but the obvious dump rock of such a large project was something that could only be missed due to the obscurity of its general location.

Following the numerous treasure signs in the area led to this suspicious and previously-hidden dig site.

Putting even more of the puzzle together, part of the dump of the shaft was thrown down what, upon farther realization, was another large notch in the steep cliff-front of the face of the hill as seen from the arroyo containing the primary “sign-post” glyphs. Other signs in the area also point to the particular spot of the excavation, though such things are always open to interpretation.

While possibilities still exist in the area that are worthy of additional attention, one particular final sign may indicate that “they got it” and the search can cease. For few paces from the curious non-mine hole is one of the region’s anomalous “Lilo” glyphs, all by its lonesome. Clearly newer than the sign-post glyphs, the Lilo glyph is of an archetype that is spread throughout the local area as far as 70 crow-miles away and yet has defied a full explanation by all archeologists, historians, and hunters consulted so far. But that is a tale for another day…

The strange lilo petroglyph found throughout southern New Mexico may be a Spanish survey marker, a treasure sign, or just oddly-placed graffiti.