were the paintings made?
Neither as art to be
admired nor as simple graffiti -- they were probably made for
religious reasons. Shamans, or Chumash priests, are thought to have
made these paintings to influence supernatural beings and forces to
intervene in human affairs. We can only guess what these mysterious
symbols meant to their creators, but they may represent mythic
figures, natural phenomena, or abstract concepts.
did the colors come from?
Paint pigments came mostly
from minerals. Red was made from an iron oxide called hematite, or
red ochre. White came from gypsum or diatomaceous earth. Black was
made from charcoal or from manganese oxide. These ground-up pigments
were mixed with a binder -- water, animal fat, or plant juices -- to
make them into paint, which was applied to the rock with the fingers
or with brushes made from animal tails. Chalk-like lines made with
dry lumps of pigment can also be seen at some sites.
old are the paintings?
It's hard to tell. Most
are probably less than 1,000 years old, and some are relatively
recent. At Painted Cave (shown in the photo), the complex designs were
painted at different times, often over those done previously. Without
damaging the delicate paintings, experts have collected tiny pigment
samples from the solid black disk outlined in white, for dating and
analysis. The results are consistent with one theory that this figure
may represent a solar eclipse that occurred on November 24, 1677.
Other figures were painted before and after that, in styles that
changed through time.
can I see Chumash rock paintings?
There are many sites, but
the fragile paintings can be easily damaged by thoughtless visitors.
Rock paintings remain sacred to Chumash people today. Because of the
importance of preserving this irreplaceable cultural heritage, the
Museum and state and federal agencies do not give out rock art site
locations. One exception is Painted Cave State Historic Park near Santa Barbara.