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HOPPER MOUNTAIN NWR: Chumash Rock Art at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge
California-Nevada Offices , April 21, 2014
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Image 1: Figure of an animal or insect drawn in the colors red and black.
Image 1: Figure of an animal or insect drawn in the colors red and black. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Image 2: Red figures that are human shaped along with two crosses.
Image 2: Red figures that are human shaped along with two crosses. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Image 3: View from the Pinnacles looking east towards “Condor Ridge
Image 3: View from the Pinnacles looking east towards “Condor Ridge". - Photo Credit: USFWS

By Dan Tappe

At Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County, California, there is a rock formation referred to as “the Pinnacles” where Chumash Native American rock art was discovered in two shallow caves.

Chumash rock art is considered to be amongst of the most elaborate examples of rock art tradition in the Southern California region. For thousands of years the Chumash lived between present day Malibu and Paso Robles to the north. At its height, the Chumash population reached over 22,000 people with over 150 independent villages.

Chumash rock art commonly consists of images such as humans, animals, celestial bodies, and ambiguous shapes and patterns. The types of images depicted in the paintings typically fall into two categories: representational and abstract. Representational images include squares, circles, triangles, zigzags, crisscrosses, parallel lines, and pinwheels. Abstract art includes paintings that do not depict persons, places, or things. It represents what an individual observer perceives. In settled villages, abstract paintings were prominent, while the areas occupied by bands of hunting people often reveal representational images.

At Hopper Mountain NWR, the art in one of the caves consists of a single stick figure of possibly an animal or insect drawn in the colors red and black on the ceiling of the cave (Image 1). The art at the second location consists of four red stick figures that are human shaped, along with two crosses, one of which is drawn inside a triangle (Image 2). These figures are located on the back wall of the cave. The second cave is more complex, with two entrances and an opening in the ceiling which forms a natural chimney. Black soot marks from the chimney rise approximately 30 feet to the top of the rock formation. Image 3 shows a view from the Pinnacles looking to the east towards “condor ridge” at Hopper Mountain NWR. There are many caves in the Pinnacles rock formation that have yet to be explored. Thus, the possibility exists that more rock art may be discovered in the future.

The Chumash have placed great significance upon the preservation of their cultural traditions. It is through oral tradition, ritual, and pictographs and petroglyphs that their heritage has been kept alive. Chumash oral history suggests that tribal spiritual leaders, known as ‘alchuklash or Shamans, created much of this rock art. The Chumash consider caves, cliffs, and sources of water to be places of spiritual significance; areas where the ‘alchuklash could enter into a deep state of prayer or vision quest. This is a time when direction was sought for one's self and people. The ‘alchuklash customarily interacted with the spirit world through the use of native herbs such as sage, tobacco, and Jimsonweed. It was in areas like the Pinnacle caves that such ceremonies were held and this artwork remains as a lasting legacy for the Chumash people.

To protect these cultural resources and sensitive California condor nesting habitat, access to the refuges is limited to regularly scheduled staff led tours. For more information about Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, contact refuge manager, Dan Tappe at dan_tappe@fws.gov


Contact Info: Ken Convery, 805-644-5185, ken_convery@fws.gov



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