The Sierra de San Francisco
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The Cueva del Ratón is located at the highest elevation of any painted cave of importance in the Sierra de San Francisco. It is on the eastern edge of a ridge dropping down from the high ground of Cerro de la Laguna, and it is more of an overhang or rock shelter than a true cave. The painted area is about 40 feet long and exhibits a small but choice collection of the Painters' art: colorful figures of deer, borregos, rabbits, humans, and a mountain lion.
One large mono represents a rare type. The figure was divided into red and black areas along the vertical axis in the usual fashion, but a black oval was heavily painted over the area where we would imagine a face. In addition, both the red and black portions of the body were colored in fine vertical stripes rather than solid paint. This curious face patch has turned up at only four other sites
: Cuesta del Palmarito about four miles to the southeast, and El Carrizo, Los Monos de San Juan, and El Cajón del Valle, 50 miles to the south and in a different sierra, that of Guadalupe. As a further curiosity, the coloring in vertical lines is much more common in the sierras of Guadalupe than it is in the Sierra de San Francisco.
The known paintings of human figures with black face patches
click for enlargement
A black lión also commands attention. Such painted representations of mountain lions occupy a special niche in the Painters' repertory. For some reason, mountain lion figures vary less than any other, animal or mono. They all have long, stiff, extended tails and short legs cocked at similar angles. There is virtually no neck, and a round, short-muzzled head is set with small round ears. Most leones are black but several red examples have turned up, and even one in ochre. Oddly, the painted images of these animals are never bicolored. They are unique in this respect.
Certain artists appear to have worked in several of the great painted centers. The mountain lion and the rare black-faced human from Cueva del Ratón (below left) were virtually duplicated at Cuesta del Palmarito and elsewhere. Similar resemblances seem to link the histories of many painted caves. However, other artworks may be unique to their sites. For example, no counterparts are known for the elegant murals at El Batequi or the Serpent Cave. Certainly, some aspect of the Painters' religion dictated that art be located in specific places - a dictum that took precedence over convenience and maintaining the integrity of earlier works. Shamans apparently were stern taskmasters: Some art can be found at amazingly inaccessible sites, and other works, like this one at Santa Teresa (below middle), seem unnecessarily high on a wall that is otherwise unpainted.
Cueva del Ratón
Santa Teresa I
Cueva de las Flechas
The central effigy of this painting from Cueva de las Flechas (above right) is impaled and overlaid with arrows, one of many puzzles in the Painters' symbolic vocabulary. Images of animals transfixed by arrows are common in the Sierra de San Francisco, but human figures so treated are rare. However, in the sierras of Guadalupe and San Borja, both are common. Some sites in all regions fairly bristle with figures wounded by spears and arrows, yet El Batequi, with its many figures, exhibits no weapons at all. What was the message? These powerful figures act out an elaborate charade for which we have not yet guessed the first word.
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