The Cave Paintings of Baja California

The Sierra de San Francisco

Page 8 of 10
A little over a mile below Rancho San Gregorio is an inconspicuous cañada called La Palma one of the richer rock art galleries left by the Painters. The site consists of a 200-foot respaldo located 50 or 60 feet above the caja on the east side. Near the north end of this wall, the lower part is undercut to form a deeper shelter. At the north end of the greater respaldo, a small cave has formed which penetrates the base of the respaldo to a depth of 20 feet. Each of these areas is painted in its own significant and distinctive fashion. At the right end of the large outer face of the respaldo, an array of monos exhibits a degree of order unmatched at any other site. Two rows of larger-than-life figures are ranged one above the other. These monos are spaced at about arm's length. The style, paint, and proportions are similar in all figures and the rows are the result of plan, not accident. These monos are typical of those created late in the epoch of the painting phenomenon: All are lightly colored, the paint applied sparingly and in streaks that suggest chalk or dry-brush strokes. In a very rare combination, the single female figure in this group, clearly identified by breasts jutting from the armpits, is wearing a headdress of three small feather like projections, one of few instances in which a female mono was outfitted with any sort of headgear. Several male figures have headdresses of the sackhat variety, and in one case the lower half of the body and legs are painted black, a decorative scheme that gives the figure the appearance of wearing trousers. The body and legs of another sackhat figure are in-filled with a regular pattern of alternating red and black stripes. Two counterparts of this curiosity are found side by side at Cuesta del Palmarito and another has been described at El Corralito. These four figures are so similar that they constitute one of the few cases where we can be quite sure we are seeing the work of a single painter at more than one site.
Farther to the left, the outer wall is profusely decorated with other less regularly placed monos and several large borregos. These representations of bighorn sheep are as fine as those at any other place, and they occur here in impressive combinations. All were painted with heads raised to best exhibit noble representations of their distinctive horns. Another noteworthy feature of the middle wall area is the presence of four rather crudely drawn fish. One of these almost certainly represents a shark and is delineated as a profile, a rare occurrence.
The lower, better-sheltered part of the respaldo is decorated with a remarkably integrated group of monos knows as The Family of Man. Unlike the rows of their regularly spaced fellows already described, this group of eight is arranged shoulder to shoulder in a partially superimposed fashion which suggests an actual event. Other factors contribute to the perception by modern viewers that these were real people: The group is painted near the level of the shelter's floor so that one confronts the figures more at eye level than is customary. The figures are unusually naturalistic; their heads are rounded and set on perceptible necks. The decorative pattern used on two of the figures suggests clothing, and finally, a small black mono is placed in such a way that it creates the illusion of being a child. The total effect of this assemblage is very compelling; it is perhaps the most human of all the Painters' efforts.
baja rock art paintings california

La Palma ("The Family of Man")

baja rock art paintings california

La Palma Borrego

Just above and to the left of this most appealing work is one of the rare representations of a Pronghorn Antelope, the berrendo, now almost extinct on the peninsula. Fortunately, this skillful and lively representation is in excellent condition.
Blazoned on the domed ceiling of a cave within a shelter, this rich mural (above right), even in its present damaged state, radiates genius in both color and design. Three huge black forms crowd the vault; these fine examples of the Painters' bighorn sheep are magnified by their surroundings. The art fairly bursts the bounds of the space.
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