Ancient Encounters

'Ringing rock' believed part of ancient cultures

By CHARLES HILLINGER, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA on April 26th, 1991

MENIFEE VALLEY, Calif. - When Catherine Saubel, a 70-year-old Cahuilla Indian, stood before the 2- by 3-foot granite rock, she was emotion ally overwhelmed.

"I was awe-struck just being in its presence. I visualized what it must have been like when prehistoric medicine men played ancient songs on the rock before large gather ings of people. This rock is very sacred to Indians," Sau bel said.

Curator of the Malki Museum on the Morongo Reservation near Banning, Calif., for the last 26 years, Saubel has known about so-called "ringing rocks" all her life. But this was the first time she had ever seen one - or heard one.

When struck gently with a small rock, the granite boulder chimes like a bell. When struck in several places or with various-sized small rocks, different tones are heard.

During prehistoric times, scholars believe, ringing rocks were the central focus of elaborate cultural ceremonies. Today, officials in Riverside County, Calif., where the rock is located, hope to use it as the centerpiece of a park or American Indian cultural center.

"This sacred rock is a cultural treasure. It must be pre served not just for Indians but for everyone," Saubel said. "It has to be protected with a fence or whatever it takes to prevent it from being damaged or destroyed by vandals."

The rock is in Riverside County's rapidly developing Menifee Valley, about 75 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, Its exact location has not been publicized, for fear of theft or vandalism.

Ken Hedges, 47, chief cura tor at San Diego's Museum of Man, said that he knows of only seven such rocks in existence - all in the Southwest. But he said that there may be similar rocks in other areas.

Diana Seider, 35, an anthro pologist and the Riverside County Parks Department his torian, described the melodi ous boulder as "an extremely rare natural phenomenon."

Seider said that archeologists have known of the rock's existence for many years.

Efforts to protect it were launched last. year as housing development began edging closer to the site. In Novem ber, Riverside County purchased the surrounding 20- acre parcel, Seider said.

"The big problem now is how to protect the rock," said Seider, who also spoke of hopes for a park or cultural center.

"At some point in the future it would be great if a Native American individual or family could live on the site to guard the rock and to interpret it to visitors who came to the park to see and hear the rock's amazing sound when struck," she said. '

Hedges mentioned the ring ing rock of Menifee Valley in a scientific paper published late last year on the profusion of petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings) in the area.

Hedges said that little has been written about ringing rocks in scientific literature.

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