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California & West Coast. Introduction Natural Environment West Coastal Pacific Culture History. Introduction. Geographically and ecologically defined: The archaeological subarea of California Corresponds roughly with the state of California Includes portions of Extreme western Arizona

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california west coast

California & West Coast


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
Characteristic subsistence
  • Subsistence tended to be dominated by local resource availability
    • Coastal peoples tended to extensively exploit marine and seacoast resources
      • Sea mammals
      • Fish
      • Shellfish
tools reflected
Tools reflected
  • Procurement
    • Fishhooks
    • Lances
  • Media (i.e., material)
    • Abalone shell
    • Whale bone, etc.
interior valley
Interior valley
  • Extensively exploited and concentrated upon wild acorns.
  • 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:
      • Shelling
      • Soaking (repeatedly bathed and cleaned to leach out the tannic acid)
      • Drying, Pounding, Cooking
technology for acorn exploitation
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 stone)
  • 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
Pomo baskets, mortar and pestle

Edward Curtis Collection, LOC

northwest california
Northwest California
  • Similar in some ways to the Northwest Coast cultures:
    • Maritime-riverine subsistence
      • Woodworking emphasis
      • Preoccupation with wealth
    • Languages:
      • Athabaskan
      • Algonquin
    • Exemplary culture:
      • Prehistoric: Point St. George Site
      • Ethnographic: Yurok, Karok, Wiyot, Tolowa
prehistoric fish traps ca
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
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 elements

central california
Central California
  • Central Valley
    • Many societies sharing social customs
      • Basketry, House form, Technical processes (i.e., acorn processing)
      • Fair amount of cultural sharing with peoples of the Great Basin
      • Languages:
        • Penutian speakers
      • Exemplary culture: Prehistoric: Windmiller
      • Ethnographic: Wintun, Miwok, Yokut
windmiller site and complex
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.
southern california coastal tradition
Southern California Coastal tradition
  • Marine subsistence
  • Languages:
    • Shoshonean
    • Yuman
  • Exemplary culture:
    • Canalino Culture (Prehistoric)
    • Chumash (Ethnographic)
eel point ca
Eel Point, CA
  • Eel Point is located on San Clemente Island in California.
  • 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 clemente
How did people get to San Clemente?
  • Located in a deep ocean basin and never closer to the mainland.
  • Watercraft of some kind was used to reach the island, though no evidence of what that may have been.
morrow bay 8 000 years
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 manos.
artifacts from morrow bay
Artifacts From Morrow Bay

Manos and metates

morrow bay
Morrow Bay

Milling slab

shell artifacts from morrow bay
Shell Artifacts from Morrow Bay

Mussel shells

Shell bead necklace

southern desert california traditions
Southern Desert California traditions
  • Shares much with the Southwest:
    • Pottery
    • Maize agriculture
    • Sand painting
san dieguito and the harris site
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 assemblages
    • 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
San Dieguito Complex

harris site
Harris Site

rock mortars
Rock Mortars

california prehistory and ethnohistory
California prehistory and ethnohistory
  • May provide an example of "optimally efficient" hunting-and-gathering societies, capable of sustaining:
    • Dense population levels
    • Sedentary village life
    • Sophisticated "political-economic arrangements of some scale"
analogue to
Analogue to
  • Caldwell's "Primary Forest Efficiency" in the Eastern Woodlands
  • Other intensive foraging societies such as those of the Pacific Northwest Coast (discussed already)
  • They represent optimal examples of what it means to be:
  • "Archaic" in the New World
  • "Mesolithic" in the Old World
at the time of contact
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