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These are an artist's rendition of the sun-like designs found in Chumash rock paintings. The Sun and its movements were very important to the Chumash.
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The Chumash Tribe

The sky and the heavens impacted every part of the life of the Chumash. Like the Pawnee, the Chumash of California also had a ranking for those objects they saw in the sky. It is important to keep in mind that these objects were also supernatural beings to the Chumash. The ranking is as follows:
  • 1st - The Sun who was seen as an aged widower carrying a blazing torch
  • 2nd - The Moon, a female god who controlled human health especially the menstrual cycle of women
  • 3rd - Venus as the morning star, a kind god. Then Venus as the evening star, the evil chief of the underworld
The Chumash believed in supernatural forces and beings and they believed that humans could influence those forces for good or for evil. The most important time of the year for the Chumash was right before the winter solstice. They believed that this was the time when the Sun might not choose to come back to the Earth. This would've obviously affected life on Earth and so it is not surprising that the Chumash took it upon themselves to influence the Sun to come back since it was a matter of life and death. The Chumash people held times of prayer and dancing that would last for several days. They observed the Sun by putting sun sticks and poles in the ground. This vigilance was meant to pull the Sun back to Earth.

The Chumash natives were hunter-gatherers. Our normal preception of hunter-gatherer people is that they must've had a limited intellect. But, the Chumash prove us wrong. The Chumash had a certain sophistication of society, of religion and of astronomical practices. They named an enormous number of stars. They kept astronomical records on tally cords and notched sticks. Sun shrines and observatories exist all over California. It is thought that the Chumash might have used these to observe the solstice occurences. Finally, they painted beautiful rock art of astronomical occurences. These ancient people show an intellect and creativity that we don't often credit them with.

Last modified September 17, 2000 by Jennifer Bergman.

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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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