Burro Flats Painted Cave

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Burro Flats Painted Cave
LocationSimi Hills, Ventura County, California, United States
Nearest cityBell Canyon, California
ArchitectChumash people
Architectural stylePictograph Rock art
NRHP reference #76000539[1]
Added to NRHPMay 05, 1976

Burro Flats Painted Cave is in the Burro Flats area of the Simi Hills between the Simi Valley, and West Hills and Bell Canyon, in Ventura County of Southern California, United States.[2] It is a Cave containing Chumash Native American pictographs. The cave is near the historic Chumash settlement of Hu'wam, along upper Bell Creek, and Tongva/Fernandeño settlement Jucjauynga The cave is located in the southwestern corner of Area IV of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory on private land owned by Boeing, formerly operated by Rocketdyne for testing rocket engines and nuclear research. The Burro Flats Painted Cave is not accessible to the public. Panorama of Burro Flats cave art here

A replica of the pictographs can be seen on a six-foot-high wall in the magazine area of Simi Valley Library.[3]


Pictographs in the Burro Flats Painted Cave.

Among the pictographs at Burro Flats are two human stick figures wearing headdresses with lines radiating from the heads. There are also stick-figure animals with four fingers, a circle with a star inside, a plant resembling a cornstalk, and more abstract groupings of circles and trigrams.[4][5] The cave is a small, hollowed-out portion of a long, low rock set into a grassy slope.[5] The Burro Flats pictographs have been termed "the best preserved Indian pictograph in Southern California."[4] Archaeologists estimate the drawings are several hundred years old.[6]

In 1971, the Los Angeles Times reported that some have suggested "that the cave's drawings were made by Indian maidens who slept here and drew what they saw in their dreams, perhaps as part of puberty rites."[4] Others have suggested that it was used as an astronomical observatory and to celebrate the winter solstice. The Chumash celebrated the "return of the sun" as their civilization depended on the sun for life.[7] One anthropology professor has opined that the Burro Flats pictographs were painted between 500 A.D. and the arrival of the Spanish settlers. He noted, "They've had very little vandalism, one of the least molested sites I know of."[8]


The paintings likely date back to 500 CE.[9]

The cave is located near the historic Chumash settlement of Hu'wam, along upper Bell Creek, and Fernandeño settlement Jucjauynga. In 1971, Fernandeño Indians asked Rocketdyne to safeguard the cave drawings. At the time, Fernandeño tribal leader Rudy Ortega, Sr. said, "We really know very little of our heritage. ... The paintings are one of the few physical links to our heritage. We hope one day to interpret their stories for our people."[4]

Tribal leaders expressed concern about damage that could result from vandals or weather and asked Rocketdyne to enclose the drawings in glass.[4] Rocketdyne officials fenced off the area, which was still being used to test rocket engines, and tribal leaders next petitioned to have the site declared a state or national historic monument.[6] The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. In 1978, the pictographs were the subject of the documentary film, "Cave Paintings of the Chumash Indians."[10] The Santa Susana Field Laboratory is now closed and undergoing a complex toxic-radionuclide pollution analysis for a subsequent cleanup. Historical Resource studies and protection are part of the process. The land is to become a park when the cleanup is done.

The Chumash tribe has requested the return of the site to the tribe. The current owner is NASA.

In order to guard the pictographs, the exact location of the cave is kept secret, its location not marked even on Boeing company maps. Archeologists are not allowed to view it without special permission.[5] After concerns were raised again in the 1990s about the security of the cave paintings, Rocketdyne officials declined to discuss its specific security and surveillance measures, but noted that the location was restricted to prevent trespassers and vandals. A company official noted, "Those are probably the most protected of any pictographs in Southern California, and the fact they're the only ones that haven't been desecrated I think is proof of that."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. ^ 'Old Burro Flats Photos' access date: 5/15/2010.
  3. ^ Brant, Cherie (2006). Keys to the County: Touring Historic Ventura County. Ventura County Museum. Page 158. ISBN 978-0972936149.
  4. ^ a b c d e Kenneth Lubas (1971-01-31). "Indians Trying To Safeguard Cave Paintings of Ancestors: Mission Tribe Will Ask Rocketdyne To Enclose Historic Works in Glass for Protection Against Any Vandalism". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ a b c Kay Hwangbo (1995-03-26). "Stone Sacred Native Americans Get Rare Look at Cave Painting on Rocketdyne Site". Los Angeles Times (Valley Edition).
  6. ^ a b "Tribe Opens Petition Drive for Monument". Los Angeles Times. 1971-02-18.
  7. ^ Ira Gribin (1981-07-12). "Simi Valley: Chumash Indians among settlers". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ a b Kermit Pattison (1995-07-21). "Rocketdyne Cuts Could Affect Chumash Caves". Daily News (Los Angeles).
  9. ^ Appleton, Bill. 2009. Santa Susana. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9781439638200. Page 11.
  10. ^ "Film on Indian Cave Paintings". Los Angeles Times. 1978-11-12.

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