The Native Americans lived in California for centuries, even perhaps millennia. When European explorers made contact, ethnographers believe the number of Native Americans throughout the state reached approximately 500,000. Their tribes were so diverse that ethnographers identified 135 separate Native American languages.
These various tribes created petroglyphs (pecked or incised abstract images) and pictographs (fiber brush paintings on rocks). Most of the drawings were likely made by shamans for ceremonial purposes. Often, the rock art was created in a cave and near water.
The Chumash left one of the best preserved examples of rock art located near Santa Barbara. To get there, you have to drive up a curvy road and enter the Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park. Then you’ll drive along a narrow two-lane road and hope not to miss the cave. The cave itself is tucked away inside a forested mountain. It also has heavy bolted grating that bars people from entering and possibly vandalizing the paintings.
Although Native Americans have been reluctant to talk about their rock art and the significance of these images, visitors can identify the use of charcoal, red ochre, and powdered shells used as paints. This painting is estimated at several hundred years old and if you can find the black circle, ethnographers believe it represents the solar eclipse that occurred in 1677.
It’s interesting to note that the Chumash tribe around the Santa Barbara area, like the Coahuilla, had an extraordinary claim to fame: they existed in large communities without farming and agriculture. Instead, they lived off the abundance of the land. So today, although most of their rock paintings may be lost to time, we have the Chumash to thank for having kept the environment around Santa Barbara in tact for centuries.
Address: Hwy 154, Santa Barbara, CA 93105