The Cave Paintings of Baja California

The Sierra de San Francisco

Page 5 of 10
Cueva Pintada is the location of Baja California's foremost center of primitive rock art. The largest collection of Great Murals, and those in the best condition, are found in this shallow recess eroded from the nearly vertical east wall in the central part of Arroyo de San Pablo. Note the situation of the cave and the proximity of native palms that could have been used to make ladders or scaffolding to reach high up on the backwall of the shelter. Although the cave appears small here, it measures 500 feet across the base of the opening.
baja rock art paintings california

Cueva Pintada

baja rock art paintings california

Cueva Pintada Great Mural panel

The great south panel, pictured here with the Harry W. Crosby and Tacho Arce to provide scale, is remarkable for its fine condition and the homogeneity of its painted figures. This grand cave is the most painted place in the most painted part of the entire range of the Great Murals. It may rightly be considered the focus of the phenomenon. The cave itself, while close to 500 feet in length, is at no point very deep, perhaps 40 feet at most, and for half its length it is low ceilinged and shallow as well.
The quantity of well-preserved painting at Cueva Pintada is a function of two factors that extend beyond the will of the Painters: the size of the cave and the durability of its rock surfaces. In the latter respect, this place is remarkable. Many other sites were as heavily painted per square foot of wall space, but in very few is the ratio of survival so high. This is due in part to a relatively recent event in the history of the cave's formation. At the south end of the shelter, a section of the back wall some 100 feet long is covered with over 40 grand images, principally monos , deer, and borregos. Although these were overpainted to a depth of at least three layers, the group is in the best condition of any with a comparable number of large figures to be found in the entire range of Great Murals. A line of large rock fragments lies just below this heavily painted respaldo. Inspection shows that they fell relatively recently from the wall above, leaving it a clean, little-eroded surface. It appears that the excellent condition of these paintings is due in large measure to the fresh character of the rock on which they were painted. Most other respaldos apparently were already weathered and beginning to disintegrate before any paint was applied. Afterward, the process continued and the paintings suffered.
Cueva Pintada is so wide and irregular that it provided the Painters with two very different sorts of rock shelter. The above photograph shows a recessed wall painted to a height of 30 feet. Here (below left) in the central part of the cave, the back wall is too soft to sustain paintings, but a ceiling of excellent rock supports an amazing gallery. This view looks south toward Cueva de las Flechas on the opposite wall of the arroyo.
baja rock art paintings california

Cueva Pintada

baja rock art paintings california

Cueva Pintada

Was each wall an altar, each painting an offering? We do not understand the reasoning that led to the placement of the Painters' art. Most of the time, they superimposed new images on old, showing little concern for the visibility of existing works or of those being added. They obviously valued the act of painting in particular places more than they valued the show that resulted.
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