In rock imagery, the “Goggle-Eye Entity” is a haunting emissary of West Texas prehistory
If you've visited Hueco Tanks State Park, near El Paso, you likely haven't forgotten its penetrating gaze. What archeologists call the “Goggle-Eye Entity” was painted or pecked at hundreds of sites in the desert borderlands, by a prehistoric people known as the Jornada Mogollon. Its form varies, but its bulging eyes are a constant.
What do we know of this haunting figure?
There's something that leaps to mind at the sight of the Goggle-Eye Entity.
Margaret Berrier is a rock art researcher.
“We went to see it and I brought my two grandsons,” Berrier said. “So I asked the younger one, 'What do you think that is?' And he says, 'an alien!'”
Known as Marglyph, in tribute to her decades-long study of petroglyphs, Berrier is an artist who has drawn, recorded and cataloged thousands of rock-art images in West Texas and New Mexico.
That includes more than 700 Goggle-Eye – or “GE” – Entities, which has given her a singular perspective.
“There's a real variety when you sit down and look at all the images that I've found,” she said. “And that's the thing that always fascinates me, that they have that similarity of the eyes, but the rest of it can be wildly imaginative.”
Some are six-feet high, others less than a foot. Striking examples feature trapezoidal heads or bodies. Some include intricate geometric patterns, like the “step-fret” motif, used in Native American design in the Southwest today. Some GEs have limbs. Others, perhaps most hauntingly, are simply a pair of wide eyes.
Who is this arresting being?
Archeologists have long answered that by looking south to the wide-eyed Aztec rain god, Tlaloc. The Jornada Mogollon flourished from the Guadalupe Mountains to southern New Mexico and Chihuahua for untold centuries. By 500 CE, they were creating distinctive ceramics. But around 1000 CE, they became increasingly agricultural. Archeologists assumed the Jornada “imported” Tlaloc, along with farming, from present-day Mexico around that time.
But new findings suggests otherwise.
In West Texas caves, GEs have been found painted on sotol stalks, dating to 600 CE. The dating of Hueco Tanks paintings reveals a comparable antiquity. And while the big eyes are shared, Marglyph noted the GE lacks several of Tlaloc's defining features — like fangs and a mustache.
The two icons may have emerged from a broadly shared mythology. But the GE doesn't appear elsewhere in the ancient Southwest — it seems distinctive to the Jornada.
Still, Marglyph noted, entrenched beliefs change slowly.
“Even a guy that I've worked with for 15 years, he said, 'Don't you think it's about time that you just accept my idea that Tlaloc came from West Mexico in an ancestor bundle?'” she said. “There are some people that are very attached to their theories.”
There's other evidence the Goggle-Eye was a signature Jornada image.
For unknown reasons, the Jornada abandoned their villages around 1450 CE. Much of their iconography endures in contemporary Indigenous communities. Jornada rock art, for example, includes stunning images of figures with headdresses. Strikingly similar headdresses are part of ceremonial life in Pueblos today, from Taos to Hopi. But when the Jornada culture vanished, so did the Goggle-Eye Entity.
Marglyph focuses on documenting images, not interpreting them. She said that some archeologists have tied the GE Entity to rain, but that such connections are speculative.
This West Texas icon may always remain mysterious. But we can be sure that for our region's ancient people, it held immense meaning.