The Barstow Glyphs

Welcome:  Abstract

Terms and Charts:  Important Celestial Events

The Glyphs:  Pictures and Astronomical Alignments

The Landscape:  Geographical Landmarks and Astronomical Alignments

Native American Tribes Who May Have Inhabited the Area

Putting them Together:  What the Glyphs May Have Meant to the Artists


 In October of 1999, a handful of archeoastronomy students at Pomona College were led by Professor Bryan Penprase (Astrophysics) and colleague, Rick Hazlett (Geology) to explore a petroglyph site near Barstow.  Hazlett, who had been making a geological map of the area, had discovered the petroglyphs the year before.  However, prior to the archeoastronomy studentsí trip, the astronomical orientation of the drawings and the rock surfaces of the petroglyphs had not been measured for possible astronomical alignments. Three fearless students, Andres Marin, Shelley Kunasek, and Ariel Esterkin, thus took up the investigation of possible alignments, following in the footsteps of their inspirational mentor, Cara Hirsch, who had performed a similar investigation two years before.

Presented here are the astronomical alignments of the petroglyphs, the geographical picture and possible solstice and equinox landmarks, descriptions of the tribes which may have inhabited the region, and our conclusions about the meanings of the site.


Terms and Charts:  Important Celestial Events

Winter and Summer Solstice:  The points at which the sun is furthest north (winter) and furthest south (summer) on the horizon.  Many Native American tribes considered these events important because they marked the edges of the path of the sun, a path which they worried that their gods might someday change, making life quite hard for the people.  These solstices are important markers of the seasons.

Equinox:  The point at which the sun passes through the true east and true west points in its path across the celestial sphere.  At noon, the sun will cast no shadow.  This is another important marker of the seasons.

Azimuth:  The angle (with north = 0°°) at which a celestial body appears on the horizon.

Azimuths of major astronomical events at the petroglyph site:  (at roughly 34° lattitude)

Summer solstice sunrise:  66°
 Winter solstice sunrise:  114°
 Summer solstice sunset:  246°
 Winter solstice sunset:  294°
 Spring equinox:  90°
 Fall equinox:  270°

Putting it Together: The Meanings of the Glyph

From what we know about the potential meanings of the glyphs and the probable astronomical alignments, it is possible that this petroglyph site may have held some astronomical significance for Native Americans who inhabited the area.  The Chemehuevi were the most likely Native Americans to have inhabited the area.  These migratory people may have used the glyphs of the westface of the rock to determine when they should move, namely winter solstice.  Their ancestors may have been responsible for the design of the atlatl on the eastern face of the rock cluster before 1000 AD.  These paintings may have been important for the prediction and observation of important celestial events.  However, these painting may also have simply been historical records of the tribes with absolutely no astronomical importance.

Madd Props (Special Thanks)

We want to thank all the little people we had to step on to get here.  Thanks to the Native Americans for providing us with the opportunity to investigate these petroglyphs and learn more about their intriguing culture.  Thanks to Dr. P for being so enthusiastic and insightful.  Thanks to Professor Hazlett for sharing his discovery of the site with us.  Thanks to Cara for being such an awesome mentor and for putting up with The Breakfast Club.  Thanks to Johnny Walker for all the good times.

Chemehuevi doing migratory dance with jimson weed!

Back to the top