The Past and Present of Chumash Rock Art

Topics: Cave painting, Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park, California, Chumash people Pages: 6 (2105 words) Published: May 21, 2006
Chumash Rock Art

When exploring coastal California there are many sites to see, especially since the coast runs a good deal of the length of North America. This large area that tourists flock to all year was once inhabited by a Native American tribe by the name of the Chumash. While the Chumash were in contact with one another through trade, they were not a tribe in the typical sense of the word. Each town had its own system of government and their own Shamans. These Shamans that were particular to each town would venture into the wind blown caves surrounding the camps and perform secretive work for the sake of the supernatural powers that were thought to govern the lives of the Chumash. One of the pieces of work that the Shamans would produce during the rituals was rock art. Rock art left by the Chumash is veiled in mystery; to this day no one can decode the meanings behind the drawings. However, the art remains popular with the Chumash today. Once a religious sacred secluded ritual for shamans, the rock art has transpired into modern day Chumash culture as icons within the casino. Hidden for so long in caves off the beaten path, the art can now be seen by all in the casino that is saving the culture of the Chumash Indians.

While the rock art of the Chumash are all over coastal to central California, the only example is located that the public is privy to is Painted Cave near Santa Barbara. It is here that the rock art of the Chumash can be viewed in its natural state. Chumash rock art is distinctive due to the shapes and the consistency with the drawings. All Chumash rock art is found in caves far from the towns in remote caves that would not have been used for living quarters. While no method for decoding the art has ever been established, the art itself is easily identified as Chumash due to the style of the paintings. Most of the paintings are of the animals that lived around the towns and things that are seen in nature. Unlike other petroglyphs the Chumash rock art has hard lines, geometric shapes, and appears to have been painted over one another several times. They all have the same theme: geometric forms associated with mental imagery such as grids, stars, dots, and meandering lines or fantastic creatures, birds, and horned anthropomorphs. The inside of the objects are light but are traced by darker pigments around the outside. These rock art paintings of the Chumash do not tell a story and were not used for conveying a message to the public. Since the art is so contrived and jumbled together with no rhyme or reason, it is believed that the art was used during ceremonies performed in secret.
Messages of the rock art may be lost forever but the materials that the Chumash used to create the images are no secret. Rock art of the Chumash was painted onto the cave walls as opposed to being engraved. To accomplish this the Chumash used pigments that came mostly from minerals. Red appears a lot in the art and they found the red pigments from iron oxide called hematite or red ochre. The white pigments came from gypsum or diatomaceous earth. Black was found in charcoal or manganese oxide. Once the Chumash had the pigments they were mixed with a binder of some sort: animal fat, water, or plant juices. After mixing the mineral pigments with the binder the Chumash would use their fingers or a crude paint brush to apply the paint to the cave walls. It is difficult to tell with all certainty which tool was used because the cave painting was extremely secretive.

There are many theories as to why the rock art was created but the main school of thought on who was behind the Chumash rock art is the idea that the shamans created it during rituals. The word shaman is used very broadly with the context of the Chumash culture. To be more specific the rock art was created by a specific group of shamans called the Antap. The Antap were an elite group of people born into their roles in society....
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