The Chatsworth Site, A Sacred Solstice Sunset Village

Yet again, I have found myself outside of the desert this summer. It has sort of become my new thing, to escape at least a handful of times during the summer months. Even a dude named, “Death Valley Jim” enjoys a nice break from the oven of the Mojave in July and August.

The opportunity to visit the Chatsworth Site was recently bestowed upon me, and when opportunity comes knocking, I answer. A majority of this site is located on private property in the Los Angeles County community of Chatsworth, a city of 42,000 people in the northwestern San Fernando Valley region. It is truly amazing that these types of sites still exist in the middle of a city of this size. For up to 8,000 years prior to the arrival of the Spanish, and later the white man, the Chatsworth area was inhabited by the Tongva-Fernandeño, Chumash-Venturaño, and Tataviam-Fernandeño tribes.  The Village of Momonga was located here, and was one of few multilingual and multiracial settlements of the time period. Members of the three tribes lived among each other, and even intermarried.

The Chatsworth Site is believed to have been regarded as a very sacred ceremonial location. The presence of both a sulfur and fresh water spring, along with the presence of “rock art” has led archaeologist, John Romani to believe, “The presence of a sulfur spring — often considered sacred and medicinal — coupled with the extensive presence of rock art, clearly establishes a sacred/ceremonial value to this site. . . . The sanctity and magical power of rock art strongly implies that this is not a village of commoners or a more secular  assortment of individuals, but rather a highly prestigious village occupied by high status individuals.”

 

A large cupule under a sandstone rock shelter.

A large cupule under a sandstone rock shelter.

 

The “rock art” at this site is plentiful, spread across a number of sandstone boulders, and consists of pictographs and cupules. The main panel is located in a rock shelter, or natural recession. The designs are polychrome, consisting of red, black, and white pigments. Due to the site not being well sheltered, a significant portion of the panel has been a victim to the natural elements. The painted designs that remain consist of but are not limited to anthropomorphic figures, aquatic motifs, rakes, lines, and dots. Their style is inline with the traditional Santa Barbara style of Chumash “rock art.”

This main panel is also significant because it is believed to have been a solstice site, but not a sunrise site like a majority of solstice sites, but rather a sunset marker. John Romani’s studies of this site indicate that a single bedrock mortar, located above the panel, was used as a datum point to make observations of the winter and summer solstice sunsets.

 

Rock shelter that contains the main panel at the Chatsworth site.

Rock shelter that contains the main panel at the Chatsworth site.

 

Red and white painted elements on the ceiling of the main rock shelter.

Red and white painted elements on the ceiling of the main rock shelter.

 

Close-up of the main panel.

Close-up of the main panel.

 

Several archaeological digs have taken place, and have led to the discovery of a significant number of artifact. According to Albert Knight of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, these artifacts consist of, “bone awls, hammer stones, tarring stones, steatite bowl fragments, manos, pestles, metate fragments, hammer stones, blades, choppers, beads (Olivella and steatite), pendants, projectile points made from rhyolite, fused shale, chert, chalcedony and obsidian, flakes, 843kg. of burnt rock . . . and some 8000 faunal specimens.”

What does all of this mean? Unfortunately we will likely never know. Archaeology is an ever-changing science, and as new evidence is discovered, the thought process and science changes. What we do know however is that a group of people inhabited this region long before the Spanish, and the white man came to this part of the country. They survived off of what the land provided for them, and they were thankful. They were likely a spiritual people, but not in the sense of the perverted religious movements that they would be forced to have shoved down their throats at the missions with the arrival of Spanish, but spiritual in a sense of being at one with nature.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.