Thomas Doty – Storyteller

Solstice Pictograph


Drawing  |  Photo

This rock writing is located just inside the entrance to a lava cave near Tule Lake in northeast California, the traditional homeland of the Modocs.

The sun symbol has a dot in the center meaning that something happens with the sun at this place. The two parallel lines indicate uncovered, without obstruction. The lines are longer than usual and mimic the shape of the hills to the east. Below the lines is a natural hole in the rock. Many rock writings use what is called rock incorporation, using a natural rock feature to enhance the message. In this case, the hole is the same shape as the cave entrance, and whatever happens with the sun happens high up and just to the right of the entrance. The sun figure is above and to the right of the hole.

Here's a translation: At this place, on the longest day of the year, the sun will rise over the eastern hills and shine freely, just to the right of the cave entrance.

And here's what happens: At sunrise on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, the sun rises over the hills to the east and shines into the cave, forming a fist of sunlight on the rock next to the pictograph. Over several minutes, as the fist moves down the rock, a finger grows out of the fist and points directly at the symbols. An hour later, it's finished. However, the site also includes a nearby cairn that lines up the setting solstice sun with a nearby cinder cone.

The elders say that the three circles on each side of the hole tell us that the event can be viewed for three days before and three days after the solstice.

There are several solstice rock writings in the West but none are quite as dramatic as this one.

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