Natural Environment
West Coastal Pacific Culture History
Geographically and ecologically defined:
The archaeological subarea of California
Corresponds roughly with the state of California
Includes portions of
Extreme western Arizona
Adjacent portions of extreme northwestern Mexico (the
Mexican states of: Sonora and Baja California del Norte)
Note:, within the Estados Unidos Mexicanos two of their
states exist on the peninsula of Baja California: Baja
California del Sur and Baja California del Norte.
Characteristic subsistence
 Subsistence tended to be dominated by local
resource availability
 Coastal peoples tended to extensively exploit
marine and seacoast resources
Sea mammals
Tools reflected
 Procurement
 Fishhooks
 Lances
 Media (i.e., material)
 Abalone shell
 Whale bone, etc.
Fish hooks
Abalone shell
Interior valley
 Extensively exploited and concentrated upon wild
 Acorn utilization:
 Acorns are a good source of food, but are very rich in
tannic acid
 Thus, prior to consumption, they require a fairly
sophisticated set of processes:
Soaking (repeatedly bathed and cleaned to leach out the
tannic acid)
Drying, Pounding, Cooking
Technology for acorn exploitation
 Pounding stones
 Nutting stones (stones with hole depressions where nuts
are placed so they won't fly off when hit with a pounding
 Watertight baskets:
 For soaking and leaching
 For boiling (using hot stones—stone boiling)
 For storage
 Grinding stones:
 Manos and metates
 Mortars and pestles
Pomo baskets, mortar and pestle
Edward Curtis Collection, LOC
Northwest California
 Similar in some ways to the Northwest Coast cultures:
 Maritime-riverine subsistence
Woodworking emphasis
Preoccupation with wealth
 Languages:
 Exemplary culture:
Prehistoric: Point St. George Site
Ethnographic: Yurok, Karok, Wiyot, Tolowa
Prehistoric Fish Traps, CA
Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park.
These tule blinders were worn by Ajumawi men during
night fishing expeditions. They shaded the eyes from torch
light and allowed better vision to spear or trap.
These basket traps were part of an elaborate kit of
fishing materials developed by the Ajumawi. They are
preserved in the Field Museum in Chicago.
The Ahjumawi stone fish traps are constructed of vasicular
basalt rocks from the cold water springs. The walls channel
the spawning fish into a series of chambers where eggs are
deposited in the crevices of smaller gravel. The spring flow
provides beneficial oxygen to the developing eggs.
California State Parks is working with native
Ajumawi residents to preserve the unique
stone fish traps and more fully understand
their use.
A large boulder of vesicular basalt can be found along
the shore at Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park. It has
been pitted with scores of small cupules, thought to be a
result of ancient religious practices.
These tule sandals are preserved in the Field
Museum in Chicago. They were collected
from Ajumawi fishermen around 1902 by Dr.
John Hudson.
Eel River Archaeology
A complex panel of rock art designs was recorded at the
site. The panel measures 253 cm wide and 150 cm from the
ground level to the top. A tremendous complexity in motifs
and figures is represented.
Circles, linked diamonds, tally marks and
abstract shapes are also very common
Central California
 Central Valley
 Many societies sharing social customs
Basketry, House form, Technical processes (i.e., acorn
Fair amount of cultural sharing with peoples of the Great
 Penutian speakers
Exemplary culture: Prehistoric: Windmiller
Ethnographic: Wintun, Miwok, Yokut
Windmiller site and Complex
 4,000-2,500 BP
 Cemetaries with elaborate grave goods, red ochre and
shell beads.
 Sites have manos, metates, bone tools, stone tools and
clay cooking balls.
 Bone remains include deer, elk, pronghorn, rabbit,
waterfowl, and salmon.
Windmiller artifacts
Berkeley pattern artifacts
Augustine Pattern
Southern California Coastal tradition
 Marine subsistence
 Languages:
 Shoshonean
 Yuman
 Exemplary culture:
 Canalino Culture (Prehistoric)
 Chumash (Ethnographic)
Eel Point, CA
 Eel Point is located on San Clemente Island in
 It was occupied from 7040 B.C. to 1400 A.D. and was
"one of the longest sequences of near-continuous
marine resource exploitation on the west coast of
North America”.
How did people get to San
 Located in a deep ocean basin and never closer to the
 Watercraft of some kind was used to reach the island,
though no evidence of what that may have been.
Eel Point Site
Morrow Bay: 8,000 years
 An 8000 year old site at Cayucos containing only
mussel and abalone shows us that early
inhabitants focused on collecting shellfish from
the rocky intertidal zone.
 People living closer to the newly formed bay began
to take advantage of estuarine resources. Fish were
commonly caught with hook and line.
 Various seeds, including grasses, tarweed, and red
maids, also contributed to the diet and were
ground on flat milling slabs with hand-held
Morrow Bay Area, CA
Artifacts From Morrow Bay
Manos and metates
Morrow Bay
Milling slab
Shell Artifacts from Morrow Bay
Shell bead necklace
Mussel shells
Southern Desert California traditions
 Shares much with the Southwest:
 Pottery
 Maize agriculture
 Sand painting
San Dieguito and the Harris Site
 Excavations at the Harris Site confirmed Rogers' main
conclusions and obtained radiocarbon dates that placed
the site's occupation as far back as 8200 B.C.
 Characteristics suggested for San Dieguito Complex
 abundant scrapers,
 large, percussion-flaked bifaces;
 flaked crescent stones;
 Lake Mohave or Silver Lake style projectile points;
 a scarcity or absence of milling tools (manos and metates);
 and an absence of small projectile points and pottery.
San Dieguito Complex
Harris Site
Rock Mortars
California prehistory and ethnohistory
 May provide an example of "optimally efficient"
hunting-and-gathering societies, capable of
 Dense population levels
 Sedentary village life
 Sophisticated "political-economic arrangements of some
Analogue to
 Caldwell's "Primary Forest Efficiency" in the Eastern
 Other intensive foraging societies such as those of the
Pacific Northwest Coast (discussed already)
 They represent optimal examples of what it means to
 "Archaic" in the New World
 "Mesolithic" in the Old World
At the time of Contact
 California was an ethnic and linguistic patchwork quilt
of societies.
 Spanish accounts speak of sizeable stable villages
 Villages exhibited social stratification

West Coast - SUNY Oneonta