Petroglyph, Santa Ynez Mountains

“The symbols of shamans were potentially dangerous because of their material spirituality connecting them to the sacred…The vulva itself was considered unusually perilous. For example, a Northern Paiute account indicates that the worst from of sorcery a man could endure was a twitching vulva during intercourse: Female orgasm was thought to represent uncontrolled sexual, and therefore supernatural, power. Similarly, even the sight of a vulva could pose a particularly dangerous circumstance…The vulva, a potent and dangerous object, was an appropriate shamanistic symbol for supernatural power, perhaps pertaining to sorcery.”

David S. Whitley A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada (1996)

A client of my wife’s discovered this petroglyph about two years ago. We believe it was previously unknown about in contemporary times, as the folks at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History were unaware of its existence when notified.

It is thought that the artifact was revealed after the torrential rains that followed the Thomas Fire and which caused the deadly Montecito Debris Flow.

When I first saw the petroglyph I was surprised by its size. It’s no small piece of work.

I was also struck right off by how unusual it is relative everything else I have ever seen in Santa Barbara County with respect to Chumash rock art and petroglyphs in particular.

Has anybody out there ever seen a petroglyph like this around this neck of the woods? I’m not asking for location information, just curious if something else like this exists out there in the county.

I consulted a professional expert on the matter who visited the site shortly after it was discovered and it is not known if this is the work of a Chumash individual in prehistoric times or of it was crafted by somebody much later in modern times, Chumash or otherwise.

Interpretations of the rock art include a possible whale or a vulva-form motif.

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9 Responses to Petroglyph, Santa Ynez Mountains

  1. Nico says:

    Nothing to add to your discussion here, except to share that I too unexpectedly stumbled across this petroglyph post-fire and debris flow, but couldn’t decide for certain at the time what it was or what it’s origin was. I almost entirely forgot about it as an interesting but uncertain image until it recently came to the attention of some of the other local rock art enthusiasts who felt more certain than I of its origins.
    In any case, it has since been of more interest to me and I’ve been back a few more times recently to give it another look. I appreciate the additional food for thought you’ve added with this post.
    Cheers, Nico

  2. rangerdon says:

    There is an almost identical “vulva” but it’s a long way from you – in the Anza-Borrego state park, not far from the old ghost railroad there. As with yours, no one is sure whether it’s native or European-American. The vast distance between the two might indicate wander Euro-Americans; but the erosion says ancient. If it is ancient, it means there was some communication across several hundred miles between ancient cultures. If it is Euro-American, it may be Spanish – one of the soldiers with Anza?

  3. gjanee says:

    Swordfish Cave… not in the cave itself, but around the corner. Doesn’t look exactly like the one here, but has been described as a vulva in the literature.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Thanks! I forgot about that. Yes, indeed, there is something like that at Swordfish isn’t there? Right about where you first walk up to the cave, if I recall. I’ll have to check my photos to refresh my memory.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Within the Chumash range I have seen many petroglyphs consisting of circles, grooves, incisions, PCN’s, drill holes and cupules. Elements include a circle carving, incisions and a tiny zoomorphic petroglyph in Thousand oaks. In the Carrizo plains a circle, large incisions and a large herringbone-like bone carving in an alcove similar to the feature on the back of Pool Rock. Incisions, drill holes and a circle on Santa Rosa Island, grooves with drill holes near Pismo beach and on VAFB. Grooves in La Brea Canyon, zig zags high on the San Marcus Pass and a circle near the base of the Pass. An anthromorphic figure with horns in the Sespe. In serpentine on Figueroa, a tiny anthromorphic figure in conjunction with incisions, cupules and near by several star-like shaped elements, chevrons, X’s, crosses and a multitude of parallel and crossing line incisions. But not one volva-like form, unless the Swordfish cave is one.

    Consider the context of the landscape, almost all petroglyphs are found near village or habitation sites or/and in conjunction with pictographs. Consider the rock and its surface, location, orientation and proximity to water. These locations are not random, rather they are sacred you should be able to feel or since how special the place is.

    From my experience and having seen the other photos on Flickr, I would be suspect not pre-historic Chumash Native American. Probably a hippie thing left over from the old days of the bohemian enclave on East Mountain Drive.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      ” I would be suspect not pre-historic Chumash Native American. Probably a hippie thing left over from the old days of the bohemian enclave on East Mountain Drive.”

      Yeah, it doesn’t seem oldtime Chumash to me. Very odd placement right in the path of water which would seem to flow right over it, although I have yet to see it in winter. And it seems rather too generic and stereotypical to me, like a knockoff. Just my impression.

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