Giant Murals of Baja California: New Regional Archaeological Perspectives. (News & Notes)

By Watchman, A.; Gutierrez, M. de la L. et al. | Antiquity, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Giant Murals of Baja California: New Regional Archaeological Perspectives. (News & Notes)


Watchman, A., Gutierrez, M. de la L., Llosas, M. Hernandez, Antiquity


A new regional archaeological project in the relatively unexplored Sierra de Guadalupe in Baja California Sur, Mexico, commenced in 2001 (Gutierrez 2000). This project, concerning the regional archaeological perspectives of the giant mural paintings of Baja California Sur, is funded principally by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia and the Institute Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (CONACyT/INAH). The National Geographic Society is funding the radiocarbon dating of the paintings (Grant #7130-01).

This international collaborative project between archaeologists and geoscientists aims to obtain information from the giant mural paintings and from excavations in the same rock shelters the better to understand the social interactions of prehistoric people in the rugged desert environment. The major objectives are to locate sites of rock paintings and prehistoric human occupation, to explore the characteristics of these sites in terms of their environmental settings, to determine the functions, spatial distribution, use of resources and other cultural activities among rock art sites, to define the analytical units for rock art in order to refine the general definitions of the giant mural sub-styles, and to relate .the rock art and archaeological sites of the Sierra de Guadalupe to similar locations in the surrounding sierras.

Rock shelters in Baja California are well known for the fabulously spectacular paintings of giant humans and animals (FIGURES 1, 2), mostly in red and black, and also in white and yellow (Crosby 1984). The giant human paintings recognized as belonging to the San Francisco and Guadalupe styles (Crosby 1984) probably have temporal and geographic distributions, and may have had particular cultural affinities, but have never been dated systematically. In collaboration with the Rafter Radiocarbon Laboratory, New Zealand, we are identifying the organic paint binders and obtaining age determinations of that source of carbon. Our preliminary dating results indicate that the giant mural painting tradition started approximately 5500 years ago (TABLE 1). This is consistent with other results for large humans painted in shelters in the Sierra de San Francisco (Fullola et al. 1991; 1994; Gutierrez & Hyland in press).

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