Santa Barbara County vintage making use of Chumash pictograph motifs.
When one takes an interest in actively seeking out and visiting Chumash rock art paintings they soon learn that there is an emotional and contentious political subculture swirling around these archaeological sites. Certain etiquette dictates, or at least some people would like to think that it should govern, how the sites are expected to be talked about or shared.
The rise of social media outlets have further complicated and exacerbated this matter. When a person infringes upon or violates these unwritten rules they can expect to receive criticism ranging from respectful, tempered and reasonable disagreement, to comments reflecting all reason having been drown in simmering emotion, to unhinged and vicious hostility.
The following quotations are real comments I have received in response to having posted a limited number of photographs of Chumash rock art sites over the course of several years. The comments are followed by my response.
“Get this ******* **** off the Internet!”
It is an emotional issue, for some. This outburst was delivered in response to a post showing a handful of bedrock mortars.
“Rock art isn’t meant for consumerism and materialism.”
Nobody really knows, unequivocally, what rock art was meant for because the people that created it no longer exist and they left no written record detailing their motivations. All that is said to be known is rooted upon a questionable foundation of differing degrees of conjecture based on empirical information obtained by scholars while visiting the sites in question, and educated presumption based on the testimony of a scant few secondary sources, as derived from the ethnography of a single white man.
What is known about Chumash rock art represents a slim sliver of the entire body of facts surrounding the work, the vast overwhelming majority of this information having been forever lost when the people who created the art and their immediate descendants died or were killed or murdered.
What rock art is meant or not meant for will never be decisively known. Such a statement as quoted above is, therefore, an opinion more than anything else. It is a normative statement, and whether it holds any more validity than the beliefs of anybody else is a matter of opinion itself.
When I attended the Santa Barbara Harbor Festival last October there was a “Chumash Education Booth” which was selling t-shirts adorned with rock art motifs. They obviously had no concerns about exploiting the matter for profit for the purpose of “consumerism and materialism.” I did not see anybody from any band of Chumash protesting.
More importantly, the quoted opinion above runs contrary to the manner in which the most visible and socially active contemporary Chumash people in Santa Barbara County currently make use of rock art.
Far from shunning “consumerism and materialism,” these people have embraced it with vigor to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in annual material gains selling gambling and liquor, among other things.
Visit the Chumash Casino on the Santa Ynez Reservation and one will see that the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash readily make use of rock art motifs as a means of marketing their gambling house. One can see depictions of rock art on token coins, poker chips, roulette wheels, casino carpeting and the casino logo itself.
Furthermore, rock art motifs have been licensed for commercial use by a Chumash elder and are sold for profit:
The opinion that “rock art isn’t meant for consumerism and materialism” is utterly out of line with the practices of the Chumash themselves, which seek to profit from these images in various ways some of which are dubious and morally suspect.
I have been told than many Chumash believe rock art sites are sacred. I don’t know that I needed to be informed of that, it does not come as a revelation to me. But again, the actions of their leaders, and by extension the common folk themselves, reflects a very different feeling. And as the cliche goes, actions speak louder than words.
Is something sacred to be sold for profit? To be used as a marketing tactic to sell gambling to the tune of billion dollar profits?
One may object to note that the Chumash should be free to use the rock art left by their ancestors in any manner they wish, which is certainly a reasonable point. However, the assertion here is not who gets to use it for what purpose, but that it is not meant for certain uses by anybody.
The person that wrote that quote does not have a drop of Chumash blood in his veins.
“You treat it like a museum attraction that everyone has a right to.”
The corollary being exclusivity, that only some people have this right. It appears this person does not know what a right is, but is instead speaking of privilege.
This I am accused of for merely posting photographs of rock art. It is a statement that reeks of elitism and reveals a mentality of exclusive entitlement, that only a select chosen few should be allowed to lay eyes upon a photograph of rock art.
If a person is not among the coterie, or is not known and approved of by the ruling class elite, but rather a member of the untitled public lacking credentials, a mere commoner, they should be prevented from even so much as seeing a photograph of the rock art found within the National Forest, which is essentially owned by We the People.
It is a sentiment that I would posit runs contrary to the very founding principle of the National Forest system of conservation, as founded by President Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot during the Progressive Era of American history.
At that time a few powerful men of vast financial means and influence sought to use the American forests for their own purposes, while dismissing the right of the people to have any claim to them.
Roosevelt and Pinchot waged a political war against powerful congressmen, senators and their allies in business to secure for posterity national forests and the resources therein for the many people, over the select few special interests.
Pinchot and his colleagues and peers often did this at their own personal expense without recompense from the government. This fact being a reflection of their earnest, selfless commitment to preserving the forest for all people.
Furthermore, it is a sentiment that runs contrary to the actions of the United States Forest Service, which has installed numerous register boxes at rock art sites throughout the Los Padres National Forest, wherein visitors can sign their names, leave their address and comment on their experiences when viewing the rock art in person.
In addition, the USFS created campgrounds at some of these rock art sites, which have been listed on publicly available maps created by the United States Geological Survey, both federal agencies, by definition, being of, by and for all American people.
Moreover, the man that wrote this comment above in response to me posting a few photos of Chumash rock art has published online, by way of a world renowned magazine with a world wide audience, numerous photos of pictographs. He also regularly publishes to the world via Instagram, as noted below under his quote about supposedly “not flaunting where I’ve been,” photos of rock art sites he visits. In other words, I have done nothing different than what he does himself apart from having a far smaller audience.
A screenshot of a freely accessed scholarly journal article by Dr. Thomas Blackburn, recipient of the Fredrickson Lifetime Achievement Award of the Society for California Archaeology. Many other such articles are readily available to the general public.
“Archaeological information is limited to fellow archaeologists. . .”
This assertion is demonstrably false.
Archaeological information can be readily accessed by the public through various physical locations, such as libraries or book stores, and much of it including peer reviewed scholarly journals can be freely read by the public online or accessed through subscription sites whose only limiting factor are paywalls.
Furthermore, any American citizen can obtain archaeological information by filing a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA). Authorities have some discretion in choosing what they release with respect to concerns about protecting sensitive sites, but this does not equate to a blanket ban on the release of such information, which they are otherwise obligated by law to provide anybody that asks.
“. . .or conscientious people that can keep a secret. . .”
Were it a secret this person would not know the location of any archaeological sites. It is apparently okay for them to be told and for them in turn to tell others, but you should be prevented from being one of those told or doing the same yourself.
“This info should only be accessible to people who have paid their dues, . . .”
Another self-anointed arbiter and gatekeeper of the public’s resources for whom if others do not act in specific accordance with their own personal opinion, then they should be barred from access and denied opportunity.
That is not a reasonable basis upon which to deny anybody anything.
It is a meaningless statement reflecting the capriciousness of individual opinion. What exactly is due? It is certainly not a sound basis upon which to found public policy governing public resources.
“shouldn’t be online.”
That battle was lost years ago on account of the federal government and leading scholars and authors in the field of Chumash archaeology, all of which have published to the world far more detailed, revealing and sensitive information than the limited number of photos I have put out, which comprise a puny percentage of the content on my blog.
This person is concerned about the figurative mist leaking from the wee hole that is my blog, when the leading figures in this field responsible for protecting these resources and studying them have blown a gaping chasm in the dam the person wishes would hold back the reservoir of knowledge they do not want revealed.
“I don’t think you do the wild secrets of the backcountry, their long standing remoteness and sparse visitation rates, or the communities who love and visit them any good by doing this. . . This is backcountry pornography whether you will ever admit to it or not. And YOU are whoring it out.”
This may be the most reasonable criticism I have received to date. I have to confess that I cannot think of any good my posts have done for these sites themselves as places other than perhaps increasing knowledge and awareness, which in turn helps build support for their protection, because you cannot possibly hope to protect something that people do not know exists, do not know about and do not understand.
That argument, however, can be flipped on its head and it can be said that such exposure, on balance, creates far more damage than good, through increased visitation by way of making more people aware of something they otherwise might not know about.
But again we hear of supposed “secrets” needing to be kept, supposed secrets that exist on public land in the nation’s most populace state, but which the public should never enjoy nor see, and shame on me for revealing them, even though I provide no directions but only a few carefully selected photos which are not dissimilar in presentation on my blog relative those photos published to world be leading scholars.
These secrets will be erased by nature alone in time rendering this entire debate meaningless and irrelevant.
“My lips are in general sealed”
Yet this is the same person that unexpectedly called me one afternoon and proceeded to inform me that he knew of many rock art sites, which he promised to lead me to or provide directions to once he returned from a trip to Belize.
This from a person I had never spoken to in my life. An utter stranger that rambled on for long minutes, as I listened in silence, dumbfounded as to why he was telling me all this information I had not even asked for or suggested I was interested in receiving from him.
This is the same person that commented on one of my blog posts that there was some really nice rock art nearby the location I mentioned in the post and that he hoped I saw it. This was a post that had nothing whatsoever to do with archaeology nor did it mention rock art. He made these public comments on my blog anonymously, which suggests to me he did not want his name to be tied to such a revelation, which I presume was because he really did not think what he was doing was the proper course of action for somebody in his professional position as a leading scholar of rock art in California.
Apparently, there is a lot covered under the rubric of “general” in this statement about supposedly having sealed lips. And if this was the case with me, that this stranger called me to say they would give me directions to archaeological sites, it seems reasonable to assume it happened to other people, as well.
And in point of fact, I know it has indeed happened and that this person has revealed information to another person whom he did not know personally, somebody that he knew had a history of publishing photos on the Internet of pictograph sites. And because this person with supposedly sealed lips freely gave out specific directions more photos were posted online of an exceptional, unique rock art site that may well have never been previously shown publicly on the Internet.
Perhaps earlier scholars and government agencies made a mistake in making information about pictograph sites publicly available. Whatever the case, the leaks, if that is what they are, continue today straight from the mouth of a somewhat prominent California archaeologist who could hardly contain his eagerness to unload this information to me, a perfect stranger who never asked for it.
“I’m not flaunting where I’ve been and don’t feel the need to”
I could provide a photograph of this person posing beside, very close to, a large pictograph in the San Rafael Wilderness, but out of respect for his privacy I will refrain from doing so. This is not personal, but business. I seek not to embarrass anybody but to expose their sophistry. The photo is, however, found on the Internet, published to the world, but apparently not flauntingly.
I could provide a link to this person’s Instagram page whereupon he has posted photos of numerous pictographs, including one he published just four days ago as of the time of this writing. The photo is captioned with text describing how he is looking forward to visiting the rock art site in the photo, which is shared to the world without restriction.
More to the point, I do not post content to my blog to flaunt where I have been. My motives are far removed from any desire to flaunt or brag about anything. Such an allegation misses the point entirely.
“Why is there the NEED to share something like this in the way you did?”
If we are going to emphatically speak of needs, then let us note the fact that there is no need to do anything on the Internet and in fact no need for the Internet itself. Civilization operated just fine prior to the advent of the world word web. So we can cast this question out with much of the other empty, thoughtless criticism as it lacks any reasonable basis whatsoever.
The way I shared was only different than the books, the magazine articles, the peer reviewed scholarly journals, the international licensing agency peddling photos of the site, in that I did not name the particular creek upon which the painted cave is located, while all the aforementioned sources did specifically name the site’s general location thereby revealing it to the world.
That is the difference. And it is a rather notably big difference.
In that it can be confirmed that I exercised more discretion than the purported professionals, a fact which appears to be in-line with the previously expressed sentiment by this person, that what is acceptable behavior for the clique is not acceptable for those people outside of or those people unaccepted by the elite chosen few, the self-anointed gatekeepers.
“I honestly feel that blogs like this are selfish”
I am being accused of selfishness for sharing.
Generations not yet living cannot possibly possess a moral claim over current living generations on the ownership of present day public resources.
“Can it be conceived that there are men so absurd as to love posterity better than the present generation; to prefer the man that is not, to him who is; to torment the living under pretense of promoting the happiness of those who are not born, and who may never be born?”
-Jeremy Bentham, British philosopher (1843)
“‘If the law supposes that,’ said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, ‘the law is a ass — a idiot.'”
―Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist (1837)