The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1975, Volume 21, Number 1
James E. Moss, Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Rock Art of Baja Caljfornia. By Campbell Grant, with Notes on the Pictographs of Baja California. By Leon Diguet. Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1974. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 148 pages. $24.00.

Reviewed by Ken Hedges, Curator, San Diego Museum of Man, author of “An Analysis of Diegueño Pictographs” (MA Thesis, San Diego State University, 1970), “Rock Art in Southern California” (Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 4. 1973), and “Kumeyaay Rock Paintings in Southern California” (Rock Art Symposium Collected Papers, in press).

Rock Art of Baja California, number thirty-three in the Baja California Travels Series issued by Dawson’s Book Shop, combines two important works on the pictographs and petroglyphs of the Baja California peninsula. The first part of the book is Leon Diguet’s 1895 report on the pictographs of Baja California, published here in a fine English translation by Roxanne Lapidus. This edition includes the original Diguet illustrations with the addition of previously unpublished Diguet photographs and a bibliography of his published works.

Leon Diguet was a French scientist who explored Baja California in 1893-1894, and produced important articles on a variety of natural history subjects in addition to “Note sur la pictographie de la Basse-Californie,” which was published in L’Anthropologie in 1895. The 1893-1894 trip and subsequent scientific expeditions to Baja California and mainland Mexico resulted in a bibliography of forty-two published natural science and anthropological works by Diguet. Diguet’s 1895 report was the first comprehensive account of cave paintings in the San Ignacio area, and the first overview of rock art styles in the southern half of the peninsula, where he worked. Virtually no other work was done on the subject until the early 1950’s. Leon Diguet’s Notes on the Pictographs of Baja California is a landmark in North American rock art studies, and its first appearance in English translation is a welcome event.

The second, and larger, part of the book, Petroglyphs and Rock Paintings of Baja California by Campbell Grant, brings Diguet’s work up to date, with a comprehensive summary of rock art studies in Baja California, and indications of the work yet to be done. The book is a very useful overview of the major rock art styles of the peninsula, based on published data and on personal communication with fieldworkers. This book will serve as the broad outline of stylistic trends in Baja California upon which future work in the peninsula will be based. Unlike the book by Heizer and Clewlow reviewed in the Summer, 1974 issue of this journal, Rock Art of Baja California is a good example of the proper use of limited data to provide a general framework for future work. As such, the book is a solid, useful contribution to American rock art studies, and is highly recommended on this count.

The book is well illustrated throughout, although a few of the drawings are inaccurate renditions of the originals. There are nine color plates—including a new restoration of the famous San Borjitas site-mostly illustrating paintings of the great mural tradition termed Cochimi Representational by Grant. Since color is essential to the proper presentation of rock paintings, and is so seldom possible in rock art publications, it is fortunate that they could be included. A preliminary style map is presented, as is a generalized distribution map of rock art sites. No details of exact site location are provided, a commendable decision in the light of the destructive vandalism suffered by so many rock art sites.

Rock art styles are summarized in a table at the end of Grant’s discussion. The text itself is a continuous narration and it is sometimes difficult to pick out the transition from one style to the next in the discussion. An introductory presentation of the styles and division of the text with subject headings would have made the book easier to use. A good index has been included.

I disagree with the use of the cultural term “Cochimi” to name two rock art styles. In rock art studies in general, and particularly in Baja California where so much of the prehistory remains unknown, we often have no way of knowing for sure which cultures produced which rock art. Historic tribal distributions may be quite unrelated to prehistoric cultural distributions, and the same rock art style may have been produced by more than one culture. I believe geographical names are preferable to avoid the implication that historically known cultures were directly related to prehistoric cultural developments.

This criticism should not be allowed to detract from the great value of the book. The concise summary of the history of rock art studies in the peninsula, the detailed references to early historical accounts, the suggested interpretations of the art based on the meager ethnographic information, and the overview of stylistic trends in Baja California based on a good knowledge of the work which has been done—these have never been brought together before. As a result, the first major step has been taken toward filling a large gap in American rock art studies, and a solid groundwork has been laid for future work in the peninsula.

A final criticism, unrelated to the content of the book, is that of cost. Rock Art of Baja California is a limited edition of 750 copies, priced at $24.00 each. The printing is good, the binding durable, and the color plates are adequately reproduced (though somewhat bluish in cast), but the book is not luxuriously produced, and it is small in format. Even in today’s inflated book market, one has a right to expect a much lower cost. A few years ago, when Dawson issued the superb Autobiography of Delfina Cuero (1968), a paperback reprint by the Malki Museum was allowed. Let us hope that a low-priced edition of Rock Art of Baja California will be forthcoming to give this very good book the audience it deserves.