The Chumash used paints made from natural pigments, which were collected, crushed in stone mortars, and mixed with water, animal fat, seed oils, or juice from the milkweed plant. Red, orange and yellow pigments came from soils in the Sierra foothills colored by the iron oxides hematite and goethite, white came from a rock known as diatomite that outcrops on the westside and is composed of the shells of tiny marine organisms, and black came from charcoal. Painting was done with fingers, sticks, or brushes made from animal tails, feathers, or bundled fibers from frayed yucca leaves or crushed soap plants. Sometimes a lump of hardened pigment was used as a crayon to draw directly on a stone wall.
Some images are easy to interpret and represent animals of the forests, rivers, and deserts. Other images are abstract designs, and their meaning is lost to the ages. The similarities between the images at Alder Creek Cave, Mutau Flats, and other sites in the Topatopa Mountains are strikingly similar, and it seems likely that these represent the work of painters from the same clan. Images from Chumash sites in other areas, such as at Wind Wolves in San Emigdio Mountains and Painted Rock in the southern Temblors, are different, and these may represent the work of different clans, each with their own family traditions, shamans, and ceremonies.
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