The Sierra de San Francisco
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The site of El Enjambre de Hipólito consists of a respaldo painted for about 60 feet of its length. At the right end of the painted area is a deeper alcove about 10 feet tall and 20 feet broad. This recess was heavily painted with large handsome figures primarily in red and outlined strikingly in white. The massing of the figures and the form of the shelter suggest a primitive shrine, and a close inspection showed, within this niche, a high percentage of figures notable for artistic merit and good preservation. Although there are fine deer, borregos, monos, and striking depictions of birds, this site is dominated by the unusual prominence of large stout-bodied fish (below left). It is a rare experience to see fish portrayed almost as large as human figures and given equal footing in the presentation.
El Enjambre de Hipólito
Cuesta del Palmarito
The Cuesta del Palmarito site was known for centuries to missionaries and travelers. During both prehistoric and mission periods, major trails passed within easy view of this cave's great arched entrance - which probably made it the most visited of all Great Mural locations. In its highest row of paintings, a collection of human figures displays unusually varied headdresses and decorations. Some appear clothed, a possibility so welcome to the decorous Jesuits that it contributed to their belief that the region had once been populated by a more civilized people.
Conclusion: Clues provided by the distribution of art in the Sierra de San Francisco
This account of art discoveries has been structured around the separate drainage systems in the Sierra de San Francisco. That plan fits the terrain and the distribution of paintings very well, up to a point. The arroyos certainly are logical as geographic subdivisions, and several of them clearly served as avenues for prehistoric humans. However, this clockwise circuit of the sierra's arroyos has not revealed the whole story or even all that is observable at present. At least four arroyos on the west side of the sierra were not entered in the course of my study, and the same neglect applies to the large piece of ground on the northeast corner of the sierra, a region whose potential was discussed earlier.
Apart from areas not investigated, the pattern of this presentation also neglects several interarroyo relationships that may someday help us to understand the Painters' activities in the sierra and their relationship to the occupation of nearby lower ground and the coasts. On the basis of their heavily painted state, it was surmised earlier that El Parral and San Gregorio were major routes in and out of the San Francisco highlands. El Batequi and Cuesta Blanca seem to have been lesser arteries. All of this could be deduced to some degree from evidence found within the individual arroyos. But a great deal of art (and, hence, proof of human activity) has been found along Cañada de la Soledad and in Arroyo de San Pablo within a mile of the cañada's mouth. The region thus defined is in the heart of the sierra and, up until now, was assumed to have been very isolated. In fact, this may not have been the case.
A look at the map of the whole sierra shows that Arroyo de San Gregorio, heavily painted, drains the northeast portion of the high ground. Its upper reaches, the arms called San Gregorito and San Julio, both touch the very divide of the mountains, and they do so within 100 yards of the corresponding fingers of La Soledad that drain the western side. Thus, the most heavily painted avenue on the east communicated directly with the drainage in which we find the great complex of painted places including El Brinco I, La Soledad, Cueva de las Flechas, and Cueva Pintada. This connection seems more than a coincidence. Even without the painted record, the route could be identified as the most direct trail with permanent water to cross the central high ground. Further exploration west of Arroyo de San Pablo may indicate an equivalent route or routes in the direction of the Pacific.
The ancient paintings in the Sierra de San Francisco are just beginning to be studied for their obvious value as elements in reconstructions of regional prehistory. However, unlike many humbler artifacts, the more inspired of these paintings embody a timeless genius that speaks to us in any context - art for art's sake.
Introduction to the Cave Paintings of Baja California
Harry W. Crosby - About the Author
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