Tomales Point is about 30 kilometers north of San Francisco in the Point Reyes National Park. You can visit this site anytime by going to the northernmost end of the park and hiking 2 kilometers north on the Pierre Ranch Trail. This is also a Tule Elk preserve so you will probably see some spectacular wildlife along the way.
There is a lot going on here. Artificial mounds built for observing the sky, a line of stones that make up a celestial calendar, megaliths and buried circles. But the greatest mystery is the map on the point that can not be understood unless you observe it from space.
The MIAMO team was first attracted to this area because of the stone lines.
Stone Line I and Goliath – Tomales Point
These lines are composed of large flat rocks made of a granitic type stone called Tonolite. They are surrounded by artificial mounds covered by similar stones.
Until recently they were ignored. Historians guessed that they were once a wall built by farmers in the 1800s. But in 2014 two high school students Kate Lida and Emily Wearing studied the lines. They could not prove that the line was once a wall, but it is possible it was built by dairy farmers. We do not know how old the line is so it could have been built by first Americans. A report of the work was co-authored by their professor Dr. Michael Wing and published in 2015.
Michael Wing, Kate Lida and Emily Wearing, 2015 Stone-by-Stone Metrics at Point Reyes National Seashore, Marine County, Alta, California, California Archaeology, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 245-264.
It now appears these stones serve as celestial markers as do many of the mounds. The discussion below focuses on the celestial features at the site. For those who want to learn more a draft of a scientific paper is also provided at the end of this page.
A larger view of the Tomales Point study area shows all the mounds. Curiously they appear to be laid out to resemble the night sky near Polaris, the North Star. Each is marked by a star symbol. A comparison to star maps suggest that the mounds represent stars that make up the constellation we call Cassiopia. All the mounds except one seem to co-inside with celestial features in this part of the sky except one. The MIAMO team calls it the Sol mound. We are not saying that these monds were placed to mimic Cassipeia. But the mound distribution look like it mimics this part of the sky. Not surprising, this part of the sky is over Tomales Point every night of the year.
The freaky thing is that if you look at Cassiopeia as it would appear from our nearest neighbor Alpha Centari then the Sol mound fits quite well.
The whole pattern also seems to fit with the North star and how these stars appear to move around it. The red circle marks the track in the sky that Cassiopeia follows around Polaris. This track intersects some very important rock features at the site.
A NEW HYPOTHESIS FOR THE ORIGIN AND FUNCTION OF THE STONE LINES KNOWN AS THE SPIRIT OF JUMPING-OFF ROCKS, TOMALES POINT, MARIN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
Stephen D. Janes M.A. Ph.D., California State Professional Geologist #4411, 230 Morrissey Blvd. Santa Cruz, California 95062
Crossing Tomales Point, two linear arrays of stones known to the Coastal Miwok as “Spirit Jumping-Off Rocks” have been reported by historians to be a wall or property line built sometime in the nineteenth-century. Until recently no detailed description of the stone lines has been available and no written documentation supporting the historic origin has been found. Ground surveys in the area have not found any artifacts such as ceramics or debitage, and archaeologists generally agree with the historic origin. In 2013 the first detailed descriptions of the lines were collected and a set of stone metrics assembled. From these data several features of the stone lines were identified that are not consistent with the historic origin model. Instead, key marker stones within the line identify various celestial events including equinoxes, solstices and star settings. Intervening stones may represent temporal sequences such as seasons or the timing of other key celestial events. The age of these structures remains unknown.
Cruzando el punto de Tomales, los historiadores han divulgado dos arsenales lineales de piedras conocidos al Miwok costero como “rocas que saltan del alcohol” para ser una línea de la pared o de la característica construida alguna vez en el siglo XIX. Hasta hace poco no se ha encontrado una descripción detallada de las líneas de piedra y no se ha encontrado documentación escrita que respalde el origen histórico. Las prospecciones de tierra en la zona no han encontrado ningún artefacto como la cerámica o el debitage, y los arqueólogos generalmente están de acuerdo con el origen histórico. En 2013 se recogieron las primeras descripciones detalladas de las líneas y se reunió un conjunto de métricas de piedra. A partir de estos datos se identificaron varias características de las líneas de piedra que no son consistentes con el modelo de origen histórico. En su lugar, los marcadores clave dentro de la línea identifican varios eventos celestes incluyendo equinoccios, solsticios y ajustes de estrellas. Las piedras que intervienen pueden representar secuencias temporales tales como las estaciones o el momento de otros eventos celestiales clave. La edad de estas estructuras sigue siendo desconocida.
Tomales Point is part of the larger Point Reyes National Seashore which is located along the Pacific coast 30 kilometers north of San Francisco and is defined by the elongate landmass directly west of Tomales Bay (Figure 1). Geologically the area is of particular significance because much of it is composed of granitic rocks which have been displaced by the San Andreas Fault hundreds of kilometers northward (Clark, Brabb, Greene, & Ross, 1984). The fault occurs directly beneath Tomales Bay. The geomorphology of the region therefore is influenced by its proximity to the San Andres Fault which has produced northwest trending narrow features including Tomales Bay and Tomales Point. Tomales Point is relatively narrow ridge approximately nine kilometers long that separates the bay from the Pacific Ocean and affords a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
The “Spirit Jumping-Off Rocks” is a poorly known line of stones located on the crest the Tomales Point peninsula. It is composed of two linear arrays of rectangular stones with compass bearings north 28 degrees east and north 35 degrees east respectively (Figures 2 and 3). The term “Spirit Jumping- Off Rocks” is derived from Coastal Miwok oral history (Gardner, 2007; Collier & Thalman, 1991). Known from the sixteenth-century the Coastal Miwok occupied Bodega Bay, the Point Reyes peninsula along Tomales Bay and areas to the east (Kroeber, 1976). Along the eastern shore of the Tomales Point peninsula six former Miwok sites have been identified located below the area where the stone lines occur (Edwards, 1970). However, the Miwok are not known to construct rock features (Dougan, 1998) and make no claim that they were the builders of the stone lines.
Because the stone lines appear so regular, historians and archaeologists have concluded that they were constructed to define a property boundary and at one time may have been part of a wall (DeRooy & Livingston, 2008; Livingstone, 1993). If the lines were once a wall, several thousand stones would have been required to construct a wall, but only a few hundred are now present. The missing stones are not located near the line and would have been removed from the area. Alternatively, the lines of stones were used to define a property boundary. An 1854 survey map shows a line in the approximate location where the stone lines occur, but refers to it as a fence (Wing, Lida and Wearing 2014). Other fences also are depicted on the map where no fences occur today. No written documents such as journals, diaries, newspaper articles, or property plot plans are available describing the wall or property line or its construction, and historians have acknowledged the possibility that the stone lines are older and may have been constructed by “paleo-indians” (Gardner, 2007).
The only detailed description of historical and circumstantial information leading to inferences about the origin and function of the lines has been produced by Wing, Lida, & Wearing (2015). In addition, Kate Lida and Emily Wearing produced a database of the stone metrics including length, width and height of each stone and other features like gaps and the number of stones adjacent to the line (Wing, Lida, & Wearing, 2014). From these data and limited historic information they made comparisons to other stone walls in the region. While the historic hypothesis is one explanation for the origin and function of the lines, the stone metrics data set reveals several features that do not suggest a wall or property line. Additional investigation and descriptions of the stones and other geomorphic features over a larger area provides more evidence to test the historic origin hypothesis and suggest other models.
Initial analysis of the geography and geomorphology of the study area were assessed using satellite photography from Google Earth R (Figure 3). Ground surveys were conducted using a Brunton Pocket Compass adjusted for magnetic declination and the United States Geologic Survey 7.5-minute Tomales Quadrangle. Several geomorphic features were described in detail and examined to determine if they were natural bedrock outcrops. Soil thickness was determined by inserting a thin steel rod until it impacted buried bedrock.
As noted above a stone metrics database was constructed by Wing, Lida, & Wearing (2014 and 2015). Michael Wing supplied this author with an early draft of their paper and the original stone metrics database. A graphic representation of the stone metrics was created to use in the field as a map (Figures 4A, B and C). The map and database were checked in the field and used to further describe the line shape and orientation, the specific stone dimensions and shapes, and to identify unique features along the lines. Ground surveys were conducted in a primary study area of 50 acres and identified numerous stone alignments between features along the stone line and other stone features adjacent to the line. These alignments were measured with the compass and later checked using a tripod mounted transit.
Celestial data for comparison with ground surveyed features were obtained from the website, neave.com/planetarium. This is an interactive star map and virtual sky program depicting celestial objects and their transits across the sky at a selected latitude and longitude. The transit patterns of the sun, moon, planets and the ten brightest stars in the night sky over Tomales Point were identified for the period from 1500 A.D. to the present. These data were checked in the field and bearings of the transits and settings of the brightest stars were measured over several nights.
There are two lines. Designated herein as “Stone Line I” and “Stone Line II” (Figure 2). Stone Line I, is a group of 241 stones 160 meters long and follows a compass bearing of north 28 degrees east across Tomales Point. The stones are numbered in this study from south to north with the first stone occurring near the western cliff edge of the peninsula. The end of Stone Line I is marked by stone #241 and is located near the crest of the peninsula ridge. Stone Line II begins ten meters north of the northeastern end of Stone Line I. It is composed of 75 stones arrayed over 88 meters and follows a compass bearing of north 35 degrees east. Historians suggest that the stones were assembled originally as a single line (DeRooy & Livingstone 2008). This requires the assumption that the two lines present today were once connected by a now absent line of stones approximately ten meters in length. There is no evidence of these “connecting” stones (e.g. partial line, scattered stones, geomorphic expression) present at the site. For this study, it is inferred that there originally were two stone lines.
Stone Line I
Most of the 241 stones of Line I typically lie at the ground surface surrounded by soil much like a series of stepping stones. Most of these stones are flat and in some cases partially covered by vegetation (Figure 5). Unlike stepping stones the line stones are quite thick and show signs of settlement into the underlying soil. The stones are typically 0.4 to 0.5 meters in width and have been arrayed in many places so that one edge of each stone is aligned to the next making the line appear very uniform. Though they may vary in length approximately 85 percent of the stones fit this description. The few exceptions to this typical shape and size include; tall and/or upright stones, large slabs wider than 0.5 meters, large transverse stones in which the long axis of the stones are set at a right angle to the trend of the line, and gap stones, isolated small stones at the center of relatively large gaps in the line.
Gaps between the stones are typically no more than 0.1 to 0.2 meters wide and in several cases the stones lie directly against one another. In a few places along the line larger gaps (0.3 to 0.5) occur and these gaps are typically associated with “satellite” stones. Satellite stones lie adjacent to the line, but are not part of the line. There is a close correlation between wider gaps and numerous satellite stones nearby, suggesting the satellites were once part of the line and have been displaced. There are two cases where several satellite stones occur along the line and are not adjacent to gaps. At these locations the satellites occur near tall stones and suggest that there may have been some additional structure to the line at these points. At two separate locations there are gaps each two meters in length. Near the center of each gap is a small stone (i.e. gap stone).
Stone Line II
There are 75 stones in Stone Line II. With one exception these stones lie at or near the ground surface. The average length of the stones in Stone Line II is greater than the stones in Stone Line I giving the line a more massive appearance. The only up-right stone in Line II is approximately 0.6 meters high. There are eight transverse stones in Line II. The transverse stones vary in size and do not appear in any order or standard spacing distance along the line. Satellite stones also occur adjacent to the line and generally coincide with small gaps in the line. However, very large gaps occur along the northeastern 15 meters of the line suggesting that the line was not completed or it was disturbed after construction. This inference is further supported by the occurrence of a pile of loose stones at the northern end of the line.
Geomorphic Features Near the Lines
Surrounding the lines are several isolated mounds of soil and loose boulders (Figure 2). Detailed inspection of these mounds indicates that they are not bedrock erosional remnants. Instead the mounds are composed of a core of soil and mantled with rocks to prevent the soil mound from washing away during heavy rains. An example of this are the “platform mounds” located 160 meters to the west of the stone lines (Figure 2 and 6). These mounds are stepped up the slope with soil cores and the steep west facing slopes are covered with a meter-thick layer of stones to prevent slumping. The tops of these mounds have been planed flat.
One mound is particularly significant because it occurs very close to Stone Line I and is capped by the single largest stone in the area (Figures 7 and 8). Referred to herein as the “Goliath Stone” this boulder is three meters high and approximately two meters in diameter. It has a flat bottom and sits on a semicircular ring of smaller stones. This orientation creates a small alcove beneath Goliath facing west toward Stone Line I. Because of its size and upright position, Goliath can be seen from great distances away from the ridge crest. There are several grooves on the western flank of Goliath (Figure 7). Only one of these grooves is caused by a fracture. The remaining grooves are shallow cuts in the rock face. Weathering patterns on stones in the study area do not suggest that these grooves were formed naturally and this may be a weather worn petroglyph. The petroglyph forms the shape of a six-rayed star.
Unusual Features Along the Stone Lines
While most stones making up Stone Line I are flat and narrow there are some exceptions. Stones exceeding 0.4 meters high and/or placed upright along the line are referred to herein as “tall” stones. There are eight tall stones in Line I and one in Line II (Figures 4 and 9; Table 1). Some of these tall stones show signs of displacement due to differential compaction of soils, animal burrows, frost wedging and other ground disturbing processes and may have been taller in the past. However, there are four tall stones in Line I that are clearly installed in an upright position and stand much higher than the adjacent stones (i.e. #38, #55, #69 and #226; Figure 4).
Stone #38 occurs 29 meters from the southern end of the line (Figures 4A and 5). Unlike the flat stones nearby it is placed upright and in a transverse position along the line. The area around this stone is also unusual because there are several satellite stones, suggesting this stone was part a more complex structure that has fallen away from the main line course. A compass bearing from Goliath to stone #38 is directly due west creating an alignment azimuth of 270 degrees (Figure 9). Stone #55 is a relatively large upright transverse stone (Figure 4A). The alignment of this stone to Goliath is 9 degrees north of west (i.e. azimuth 279). Stone #69 is a very large upright line parallel stone (Figure 4A). The alignment of this stone to Goliath is 21 degrees north of west (i.e. azimuth 291). Stone #226 occurs a few meters south of the northern terminus of Stone Line I (Figures 4C, 9 and 10). This is the tallest stone in Line I and is twice as high as any other stone. It is installed in an upright position and bounded to the north and south by massive though not tall stones (i.e.# 224 and #228). Stone #226 is located on the line in a north to south alignment with the Goliath Stone (i.e. azimuth 0).
In addition to the tall stones, there are 12 stones that are significantly larger than the typical stones in Line I (Table 1). These stones stand out from the line as massive blocks and often are buried relatively deep into the surrounding soil. The stones are estimated to weigh between 3000 and 4000 pounds each. Stone #25 is one of the largest stones in Stone Line I (Figure 4A) and is estimated to weigh 3500 pounds. Stone #81 is a relatively long, wide, and tall block. There are several satellite stones nearby and this stone marks the point where Stone Line I occurs closest to the Goliath Stone (i.e. 42 meters, Figure 8). The alignment of stone #81 and Goliath has a compass bearing of 31 degrees north of west (i.e. azimuth 301). This alignment marks the transit of the sun on June 21, the Summer Solstice. Viewed from Goliath the sun sets directly behind stone #81 on that date.
There are two gaps in Stone Line I that are approximately two meters long and where satellites were not found (Figures 4A and 4B). These gaps occur at 2 and 75 meters along the line respectively as measured from the southern end (Figure 9). At the center of Gap 1 is the relatively small stone #2 which has a unique shape (Figure 4A). This stone has triangular facets forming a pyramidal shape and a pointed crown. The stone is nearly completely buried, but the pointed crown can be seen above the ground surface. The alignment bearing between this stone and Goliath is 21 degrees southwest (i.e. azimuth 249). Gap 2 is two meters long and there are three small stones near the center. Of these #114 appears imbedded in the ground and is a small transverse stone. The other two stones appear out of place and might be considered satellite stones. The alignment bearing between stone #114 and Goliath is 55 degrees northwest (i.e. azimuth 325).
Because the upright stones #38 and #226 are placed at specific locations relative to Goliath to mark alignments of East-West and North-South respectively, it can be inferred that other stones might serve as markers. This is further suggested by the tall massive stone #81 which marks the Summer Solstice. To test this hypothesis, alignments were measured between Goliath and the two large gaps, the four tall/upright stones, and the eleven massive stones along the Stone Line I (Table 1). Also measured is the alignment between Goliath and the upright stone in Stone Line II. This data set was then compared to compass bearings of alignments between Goliath and the points where the ten brightest stars over Tomales Point set throughout the year (Table 2).
The correlation of star settings to unique stones along Stone Line I is significant (Table 2 and Figure 9). Only the stars Altair and Antares are not marked. The stone marker for Antares would have occurred several meters south of the present southern end of the line in an area lost to head ward erosion of the western cliffs by landslides. A Winter Solstice stone marker would also be south of the cliff edge. It is possible these markers were once present if the line extended some distance further to the south. Altair is the seventh brightest start in the night sky. It sets in close proximity to the setting markers for Betelgeuse and Procyon. The marker may be stone #61, but this is not a unique stone feature.
Four massive blocks do not appear to coincide with star settings, solstices or equinoxes. For stone #181 this is striking because along the alignment of #181 with Goliath there are seven other stones extending the alignment 100 meters northwest of Stone Line I (Figure 9). The alignment bearing is also unique because it is matched to the northeast by the alignment between Goliath and the only upright stone in Line II (Figure 9). These two alignments form a 30 degree angle bisected by the north to south alignment. Within this angle the constellation presently known as Cassiopeia dominates the night sky and descends to its lowest point between these alignments without setting as it circles Polaris.
As there are many old stone walls crossing the hills east of Tomales Bay, it seems reasonable that historians might conclude that the stone lines crossing Tomales Point are the remains of another wall built by ranchers in the nineteenth century. However, no written historical documents have been found to confirm this conclusion. In part, because archaeological surveys have not found any cultural artifacts like shell middens, pottery sherds or debitage near the lines that might suggest an earlier origin or different function, the historical origin hypothesis is generally accepted.
However, the lines are not alone. There are several soil and rock mounds scattered along the crest of Tomales Point near the lines. Some of these mounds may be natural erosional remnants, but some clearly are not. Rock outcrops on grass covered slopes in the area are typically exposed by down slope creep of the soil and appear as relatively flat features free of debris, because loose material continuously makes its way down the slope to drainage bottoms. In contrast, mounds on the slopes near the stone lines seem to have been built up and resist natural erosional processes. This is particularly clear for the two platform mounds (Figure 6) at the site which are composed of a soil core and steep west facing slopes that are mantled by rock to prevent erosion. In addition, something or someone has planed off the tops of these mounds. These flat surfaces provide an excellent platform for viewing miles of the coastline.
Careful examination of the mound where Goliath stands suggests that it was also modified by placing the massive stone on a semicircular ring of smaller stones which sit of a thin layer of soil. This stratigraphy suggests that at least this part of the mound is artificial. The proximity of Goliath to Stone Line I further supports this inference.
A formal description of the stone lines has not been available until recently (Wing, Lida and Wearing 2014). The description includes size metrics of the individual stones and offers some evidence that the stone lines were never walls. While most of the stones are relatively small and flat, there are 12 massive stones that are located at irregular intervals along the lines. These larger stones are estimated to weigh several thousand pounds and seem unnecessarily large for a stone wall. In addition, only four stones were clearly placed in an upright position rather than laid flat. And, there are two large gaps in Stone Line I and one large gap between the lines that cannot be readily explained.
The striking coincidence that stone #226, the tallest stone in Line I, forms a north to south alignment with Goliath located directly adjacent to the line suggests that other alignments with Goliath might be present. This is confirmed for upright stone #38 which is directly west of Goliath and marks the sunset on the equinoxes. It is also confirmed for massive stone #81 which is located along an alignment coincident with sunset on the Summer Solstice. In each case these stones are among the small subset of stones that are upright and/or unusually large. Such alignments suggest that the stone lines might serve in part as markers of various celestial events.
With hundreds of stones in the lines any alignment can be constructed. A test must eliminate most of these stones to be of value. To test the celestial marker hypothesis only alignments between Goliath and 16 unusual stones (e.g. massive, upright, and/or tall) and the two gaps in Line I were measured. These alignments were compared to the alignment of Goliath with the point of star setting for the ten brightest stars in the night sky over Tomales Point. This comparison showed a high correlation for the unique stones with star settings.
A careful examination of Goliath indicates it serves as a “index” point articulated to Stone Line I and II serving as a critical observation point. It is located at a point on the peninsula from which an observer can view a 180-degree arc of the horizon in which all ten bright stars and the sunset on the solstices and equinoxes can be seen. The presence of a large petroglyph of a star on the western flank of Goliath further suggests this hypothesis.
Stars in apparent proximity to each other in the night sky but not visible in daylight can be grouped by season. Sirius, Procyon, Rigel and Betelgeuse are visible in the Winter. Arcturus and Antares are visible in the Summer. Vega and Altair are visible in the late Summer and Fall. These seasonal events along with the solstices and equinoxes suggest the stone lines may function as a calendar. There are at least 25 species of marine life in the Tomales Bay and adjacent Pacific waters that can serve a food sources for human consumption. Tracking their seasonal productivity might be one function of such a calendar. As an example, most shellfish are toxic in the summer months due to the presence of microorganisms in the marine environment. As a source of food it would be critical to avoid them at that time.
The possibility that some alignments with Goliath might be coincidental cannot be ruled out. While the present database serves as a test of the “celestial calendar” hypothesis, more study is needed. Lunar and planetary transits of the night sky are yet to be examined. Additionally, the age of the lines is not known and having this information would help address who might have constructed the lines. Because there is a name for these lines in the oral history of the Coastal Miwok, suggests that they were constructed several centuries before European arrived in the area.
Closer examination of the mounds associated with the stone lines and some excavation might be required. Additional, archaeological surveys is also recommended. However, Tomales Point is an animal refuge within the larger Point Reyes National Seashore and excavations would cause significant disturbance of the animal populations. Continued detailed descriptions of the lines and surrounding geomorphology by simple observation may be the only investigative tool available for some time.
I was first informed about the stone lines by Renee Buchanan who participated in an archaeological field survey of Tomales Point. As noted above, the detailed measurements collected by Kate Lida and Emily Wearing continue to be a valuable source of data describing the stone lines. I am also grateful to Professor Michael Wing for supplying me with an early draft of their paper and the stone measurement data set. Field observations were also provided by Michael Cloud during various visits to the study area. Mark Hylkema, California State Archaeologist has been an advisor on various archaeological issues throughout this project.
Joseph Clark, Earl Brabb, Gary Greene and Donald Ross
1984 Geology of Point Reyes Peninsula and implications for San Gregorio Fault History In Tectonics and Sedimentation Along the California Margin: Crouch, J.K. and Bachman, S.B. eds., Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Pacific Section, Book 38, p. 67-86.
Carola DeRooy and Dewey Livingston
2008 Images of America, Point Reyes Peninsula: Olema, Point Reyes Station, and Inverness, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina, 2008.
1998 Myth, mystery, history – all in one, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco, California, October 4, 1998.
1970 A Settlement Pattern Hypothesis for the Coast Miwok Based on an Archaeological Survey of Point Reyes National Seashore, in Contributions to the Archaeology of Point Reyes National Seashore: A compendium in Honor of Adam Treganza, Treganza Museum Papers Number Six, R.E. Schenk Editor.
2007 A Cultural Resources Study of the Spirit Jumping Off Rocks Site, Point Reyes National Seashore California, Rohnert Park, California, Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University.
1976 Handbook of the Indians of California, Dover Publications, Inc. New York.
1993 Ranching on the Point Reyes Peninsula: A History of the Dairy and Beef Ranches within Point Reyes National Seashore, 1834-1992. Point Reyes Station, California, Point Reyes National Seashore.
Michael Wing, Kate Lida and Emily Wearing
2014 The stone alignment on Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore: Evidence for a historic-period origin. Alta, California, Unpublished manuscript.
2015 Stone-by-Stone Metrics at Point Reyes National Seashore, Marine County, Alta, California, California Archaeology, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 245-264.