Thursday, November 14, 2013


“…rock pile cairns represented the chief spirit of an area,
 and a (Seri) shaman who built one might pronounce
a curse on anybody who would tear it down…”


“These findings include what can be interpreted as ritual or sacred prehistoric features and sites and those adjoining domestic locations…Particularly relevant to the presentation are those specialized and concentrated locations of cultural remains, including places labeled as burial rockshelters, residential and special-use rockshelters, aligned cairns, a pictograph cave, a double trail and ending rock enclosures, and additional rock enclosures of various sizes, all within relatively close proximity (hundreds of meters or less apart) on this small hill...Malotki (2007:32-33) notes the universal need for art production “to make certain locales in their environment special or extra-ordinary and thereby render them ritually effective.” 
More pictograph photographs at Arroyo El Palmerito, Cataviña, Baja California Norte:

Hence one is left with a rock art “shrine” allowing humans to feel an ability to maintain a level of control over an unpredictable and dangerous world…There are prehistoric features in Arizona, comparable to the hillside paths and the cleared areas at their upper ends at Cerro El Almacén, which are discussed by Masse and Rankin (2008:573). These authors believe these Arizona “summit paths” and associated rock circles on hills may have served as processional paths much like Mesoamerican temple stairways. Seemingly relevant, the feature on Cerro El Almacén heads approximately toward the mortuary complex.

Rock cairns are common in the Desert West. Among many comparative studies in the California desert, Western Papaguería, Baja California, and the Gulf of California islands, see Ritter (1981), Bowen (2000), and Vanderpot and Altschul (2008).
 There is an early, well-known, and often-cited missionary description (Clavijero 1937:115) of cairn construction in the central peninsula. Clavijero noted that at Indian public gatherings the shaman or guama imposed penalties or misfortunes on those who did not bring him “the best fruit” as payment for his services. “Not only private individuals but even entire tribes were often subjected to these penalties.
Likewise in the punishment of similar sins they were obliged frequently to open some new road in the mountains so that the spiritual visitor could descend with more ease and to erect on it at certain distances some heaps of stones on which he might rest.” The roads discussed could be pathways like those found at Cerro El Almacén and in Arizona.
 A number of alternative subsistence-related functions for the cairn construction and alignment can also be explored. Vanderpot and Altschul (2008: 356-359) discuss possible cairn use to support nets, trip wires, or other entanglement devices or as part of drive lines for animals like rabbits, bighorn sheep, or deer. The Cerro El Almacén cairns do not appear to be so arranged. That the cairns could have supported a rabbit net or the like at the base of the hill cannot in totality be ruled out. However, why are the cairns irregularly spaced, and why does this one feature complex seem unique in the greater locality where most cairns are singular features?

 Could these cairns be symbolic markers placed by individuals walking along the base of the hill, much like trail shrines (see Vanderpot and Altschul 2008:359-361 for a more detailed discussion of these western desert features) to commemorate special events or places? Some of these features in Alta California would have artifacts in association, as discussed in Rogers (1966), but this is not the case here, based on the testing conducted. Vanderpot and Altschul (2008:361) note that “in the historical period, it was a Yuman and Tohono O’odham custom to toss a stone on a growing pile at significant points along a trail, such as passes or forks, for luck.” Bowen (2000:336) found evidence among the Seri that a stone or stick was placed by a prominent rock alongside a trail in order that the spirit of the rock would make some person give the traveler a gift. Bowen (2000:337) similarly relates that rock clusters and cairns have been used by Seri shamans as a means of exercising power over others. According to Moser (1963), among the Seri, rock pile cairns represented the chief spirit of an area, and a shaman who built one might pronounce a curse on anybody who would tear it down…”

     I can’t steal the photos or drawings from the pdf, so you’ll have to take a look on your own
See also “La rocosa be buitre,” a cairn with a name that might mean “Rockhouse of the Vulture,” Figure 3c on page 14 here: 
(A Cairn Burial on pages 34-6 as well)

These Bicycle Guy photos show religious graffitti...
...while a crop of this shows possible stones on boulders, including one that looks much like the painted rock, Exwanyawish (

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