Rock art reveals desert's mystery

 By Ray Patterson

 December 24, 2000

 BORREGO SPRINGS -- The things that people leave behind
 tell who they were and what events shaped their lives.

 Anthropologists are still trying to understand the people who
 left their marks on the rocks and land in the Anza-Borrego
 Desert thousands of years ago.

 One person studying the area is Manfred Knaak, who has been
 living and working in the Anza-Borrego Desert as an
 archaeologist, teacher and author for the last 28 years.

 "You kind of have to learn to love a desert," Knaak said.
 "Most people don't think the desert is an environment you
 instantly love, like mountains, beaches, and meadows, because
 it is so different."

 Hired in 1975 by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to document
 American Indian sites, Knaak has surveyed the three art forms
 left by early inhabitants: petroglyphs, pictographs, and
 intaglios. Petroglyphs are images engraved into the surface of
 the rock. Pictographs are images made from colored minerals
 mixed with a binder and painted on the rock's surface.
 Intaglios or ground figures are large-scale images made by
 scraping the earth clear of rocks and pebbles and leaving an
 imprint. Their purpose is still being debated.

 But Knaak, author of "The Forgotten Artist, Indians of
 Anza-Borrego Desert and Their Rock Art," notes that many of
 the images painted onto or cut into rocks in the desert are
 geometric designs. He believes some of the designs were used
 for astronomical observations such as the summer and winter

 "Rock art was most often very magical, personal, and used for
 rites of passage for boys and girls," he said.

 Cheryl Jeffrey, curator of the Barona Cultural Center and
 Museum, is also interested in the area. She has been studying
 American Indians of the desert from Palm Springs to
 Anza-Borrego for the last 20 years. She said that it is difficult
 to discern exactly what the rock art represents. The more
 obvious connections to astronomical events or rites of
 passage are clear, and the interpretation can be inferred.

 "We usually think of art as the finished product," Jeffrey said.
 "In rock art, a great part of the meaning in it is the ritual itself
 that took place as the art was made. This art was placed here
 for people in the future, or during that time period, to know
 something about their environment."

 Anthropologists do not agree on when the images were made.
 "We think they were from within the last thousand years, but
 we don't know that for certain," Jeffrey said.

 Although more people can observe a piece of rock art after it
 has been removed and placed in a museum, Jeffrey thinks that
 rock art belongs in its original context. "Where it is in space
 and time makes it important," she said. "It's not just the piece
 that is on the rock; it's what you are seeing all around you."

 Naturalist and photographer Paul Johnson has lived in the
 Anza-Borrego Desert since 1973. Since 1981, he has been
 leading desert tours, some of which include visits to rock-art
 sites. He said that preservation of the sites is a major concern.

 "The (state) park has a very staunch policy of not revealing the
 locations," Johnson said. "There are only two sites in the park
 that are public out of over 50."

 The closest known petroglyph to Borrego Springs is in Little
 Blair Valley. There's an interpretive panel there, with a trail that
 leads to the site.

 Johnson will lead two tours for the Anza-Borrego Desert
 Natural History Association in January to rock-art sites outside
 the Anza-Borrego area on Bureau of Land Management
 property. The Jan. 6 guided tour of roughly 200 miles will
 include a visit to the Yuha Intaglios, and the Jan. 13 tour of
 250 miles will include a visit to Corn Springs and roughly 600

 Ray Patterson is a free-lance writer who lives in Valley

 Copyright 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.



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