The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1974, Volume 20, Number 3

Book Reviews

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Prehistoric Rock Art of California. By Robert F. Heizer and C. W. Clewlow, Jr. Ramona: Ballena Press, 1973. Bibliography. Illustrations. Maps. 2 vols., 583 pages. Softbound. $12.50 set.

Reviewed by Ken Hedges, Associate Curator, San Diego Museum of Man, author of “An Analysis of Diegueno Pictographs” (MA Thesis, 1970), and “Rock Art in Southern California” (Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Fall 1973).

Prehistoric Rock Art of California is the publication long awaited as the successor to Petroglyphs of California and Adjoining States, the classic study of California rock art published in 1929 by Julian Steward. The new book is a welcome and much needed addition to the literature on rock art in western North America, but it is also a disappointment in many respects. The book is based on data on file at the Archaeological Research Facility at the University of California, Berkeley. As the authors clearly point out, it is not a presentation of the entire body of known and available data on California pictographs (rock paintings) and petroglyphs (rock carvings). It is a massive compilation of data on file at a single repository. It also is a highly recommended book for all students of rock art, California archaeology and anthropology, and aboriginal art in general.

For those not familiar with the field, however, the book must be used with caution. This is especially true of the sections dealing with southern California, the area farthest removed from Berkeley, and thus most poorly represented in the files there. The authors of the book seem to recognize and acknowledge this limitation, yet they base style definitions and areas on an inadequate body of data from the southern part of the state-where the paucity of the data alone should have signalled caution in drawing any substantive conclusions. The major inadequacies should be noted by any who wish to use the southern California portions of the study. Heizer and Clewlow define two major rock art styles for southwestern California: the Southwest Coast Petroglyph Style, and the Southwest Coast Painted Style.

The Southwest Coast Petroglyph Style is defined on the basis of data from San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties. Of these, Los Angeles County is mentioned several times with regard to the percentages of curvilinear, angular, and human elements in the sample-yet there are no petroglyph sites included on the Los Angeles County site list. The majority of Orange County elements cited are in fact red pictographs, and the San Diego County data are skewed by similar errors in recording. The Southwest Coast Petroglyph Style area, with the addition of a portion of Riverside County, is the locale of a distinctive style, but one somewhat different from that defined by Heizer and Clewlow.

Comments on the Southwest Coast Painted Style are offered here as corrections to Heizer’s and Clewlow’s work based on data of which they were not aware. In fact, the style which they define ends at about the San Dieguito River in San Diego County, and there is a distinct substyle present in the Rancho Bernardo area north of San Diego. There is a separate and distinct style in southeastern San Diego County and northern Baja California.

These comments illustrate what I consider to be a substantial error in procedure, in that stylistic conclusions are based on data so sparse as to have little validity. Heizer is an author of authority in California archaeology, and his work will be used and quoted from now on. His recognition of the limitations of his data is admirable, but his use of the limited data to define styles and characterize areas which, by their very publication, will become archaeological “fact,” is unfortunate.

In general, the entire book exhibits a crying need for a good editor. Errors of recording inherent in a miscellaneous body of data such as that forming the basis of this book are unavoidable, but the citation of data in the text discussion when no such sites are included in the site lists is the type of glaring mistake which proper editing should have corrected. Typographical errors are very numerous throughout, and the book is difficult to use. It is recognized that such a massive body of illustrative material (384 pages of figures; 23 plates) is unwieldy, and the very presence of such a collection is the book’s major value, so the difficulty here is perhaps understandable. The figures are adequately referenced, so that it is possible to go from the figures to the site lists for description, and vice-versa-although there are some curious lapses in alphabetization. The photographic plates, however, are identified only in a list at the beginning of the book (and not in any captions), are not referenced in the site list, and are rarely cited in the text.

The book was organized, designed, and typeset in Berkeley, and provided camera-ready to the publisher, as were the negatives for the plates. Responsibility for problems of organization, layout, typography, and book design, therefore, rests with the authors and whatever editors they chose to employ. The book itself is well printed, and I have not had any problems with the binding in my well-used copy.

The authors have been roundly criticized in archaeological circles for their inclusion of site location data. In this era of massive vandalism to archaeological sites, such criticism is entirely justified. The site locations should not have been published, and the announced removal of site locations from any further printings will only partially alleviate the situation.

In spite of the critical tone of much of this review, I think Prehistoric Rock Art of California is an important book, and a major addition to its field. I am glad to have so much basic data available, and I think it will find a welcome place on the shelves of students of North American rock art.