Winter solstice cave pictograph at Burro Flats


The Native Americans who lived around here, like ancient peoples in lots of places around the world, knew about the winter solstice and considered it significant. So too did the Spanish who built the missions in California (with labor from the locals) — they angled many of the chapels within the missions here and elsewhere to direct the morning sunlight on the solstice onto specific spots. A new piece at The Conversation by Cal State Monterey Bay professor Ruben G. Mendoza researches the mission solstice phenomenon.

To mark the day, here's a piece from the LA Observed archives on a local cave painting that is said to light up with sunlight every year on the winter solstice. The pictograph, believed to be Chumash, is in the Simi Hills west of Chatsworth. The Burro Flats area is now closed off to the public within the perimeter of the former Santa Susana Field laboratory, the property now owned by Boeing (formerly by Rocketdyne) that was used a rocket testing facility and the site of an experimental nuclear reactor that released radioactivity over the San Fernando Valley during a meltdown event in the late 1950s. The old Rocketdyne site is undergoing cleanup as a federal Superfund site.

Before it was closed off, Burro Flats was a popular movie location. From my 2012 post:

The Burro Flats pictographs, Chumash in origin, are considered some of the best preserved Native American art that survives in California. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, without giving away its precise location. The Chumash tribe recently asked for control of the site, but how the rare pictographs will be protected in the future remains in negotiations. The land is closed to the public and neither the Chumash nor NASA, or the lab's current owner Boeing, make it easy to find the site. I've been writing about the pictographs occasionally for about 10 years now, and even if I knew exactly where they are, I wouldn't say. Similar sites in the Chatsworth area, and pretty much everywhere else, have been plundered or destroyed.

The area is pretty interesting, historically. When the first Spaniards dropped into the San Fernando Valley in 1769, the Chumash reportedly had a large settlement beside the creek we call Bell Creek, which flows out of Bell Canyon in the Simi Hills to form the Los Angeles River, under a landmark rock outcropping called El Escorpion by the Spanish and Castle Peak by Valley suburbanites. (Horace Bell, the guy all that is named for, was a pretty colorful early Los Angeles figure.) The Chumash settlement, Hu'wam, was reputed to be in a trading zone between the Chumash, who populated the coast and hills north of there, and the Tongva, who populated the Valley and the Los Angeles basin, along the river that the Spanish called Rio Porciuncula. Burro Flats, located in the hills above Bell Canyon, later was used as a filming location for Hollywood movies, especially westerns.

Clive Ruggles, an emeritus professor of Archaeoastronomy in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom. Edwin Krupp, the director of Griffith Observatory, wrote in his 1983 book, "Echoes of the Ancient Skies: the Astronomy of Lost Civilizations," that the Burro Flats pictographs are reminiscent of the famous Newgrange cave in Ireland that is illuminated by the sun around the winter solstice. Krupp writes that he was present at Burro Flats on the solstice in 1979.

More at the original post.

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