The earliest inhabitants of the Anza Borrego Desert left hardly a trace of their passing. Flourishing sometime between 5000 to 8000 years ago, these early peoples were completely nomadic. They pursued large game, caught fish and waterfowl.
Our understanding begins with the written historical record beginning in the year 1774. This was due to the expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza through the desert on his way to California from Tubac, Arizona.
Three main tribes make up the prehistoric and recent historical inhabitants of Anza Borrego. These are the Cahuilla to the north and east, the Northern Diegueño off to the west, and the Kumeyaay to the south.
Petroglyphs and pictographs remain as the representational art left behind by these tribes. The rock art is more plentiful here than in most other regions of North America. Petroglyphs are created by picking directly into the dark stain of desert varnish which coats the rock surface. When picked through, the lighter colored underlying granite is exposed. This results in a lasting image. Pictographs, on the other hand, are painted on the rock using ancient formulas to achieve a range of colors.
Interpretation of rock art is always a matter of conjecture, because the true meaning has often been lost to the sands of time. One thing is certain, that many of the symbols and glyphs have a mystical or ritual quality and come into use in initiation ceremonies, fertility and marriage ceremonies, astronomical and or astrological observations, visions and dreams and even historical records. The importance of these carvings and paintings to the various tribal shamans cannot be over emphasized.