Leon Worden

Indian Artifacts Found in Western SCV
By Leon Worden
Wednesday, August 21, 1996

Part 2 of 3.

    Archaeologists David S. Whitley and Joseph M. Simon explored the terrain of the planned Newhall Ranch development from 1993 to 1995 and conducted the most comprehensive archaeological survey to date of the 19-square-mile region from Interstate 5 to the Ventura County border. Here are some of their newly-released findings.

ong ago, oak woodlands probably covered Potrero Canyon and other lowland mesas of the western Santa Clarita Valley. Climatic changes caused the woodlands to recede to higher southern elevations about 9,000 years ago. The region became unusually dry, even by inland Southern California standards, which is why aboriginal settlements were sparse and the first known map, drawn by Spanish settlers in 1843, identifies the area south of the Santa Clara River and west of Castaic Junction as "sterile hills" (lomas esterilas).
    The survey team headed by Whitley and Simon discovered eight prehistoric sites within the project area. They include seasonal encampments, a cache cave, a lithic (stone tool) worksite and scattered artifacts. All but one of the sites are new discoveries.
    Three sites contain "subsurface archaeological deposits and intact prehistoric artifacts that can contribute to the scientific reconstruction of prehistoric lifeways." One dates from 2250 BC to AD 940, another from 160 BC to AD 1160, and another from AD 236 to AD 808. Most fall into the Intermediate Period (3500-1500 years ago) and the beginning of the Late Prehistoric Period (1500-200 years ago).
    The dawn of the Late Prehistoric Period marked a shift from the mano and metate — used to grind hard seeds — to the mortar and pestle — used to pound acorns — and placed greater emphasis on hunting, as seen in the shift in artifact types from spear points to arrowheads.
    While it is not known who preceded them, the Tataviam Indians arrived during the Late Prehistoric Period and occupied an area bounded by Piru on the west, Newhall on the south, the Liebre Mountains on the north, and Soledad Pass on the east. They spoke a Takic dialect of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family similar to that of their Gabrieleño and Kitanemuk neighbors. At Camulos, near Piru, they mixed with the Chumash.
    Hunter-gatherers who probably organized into a series of autonomous tribelets, the Tataviam ate acorns, yucca, juniper berries, sage seeds and islay, and they hunted small game. They likely practiced a shamanist religion that put them in touch with the supernatural world through trances and hallucinations brought on by the ingestion of jimsonweed, native tobacco and other psychoto-mimetic plants found along rivers and streams. Such habitats also provided plant material for baskets, cordage and netting.
    Some believe a major Tataviam settlement called chaguayabit once existed near Castaic Junction. Whitley and Simon found no physical evidence of it there and instead suggest that it lies about one-half mile east of Rye Canyon Road and Interstate 5.
    Indians stored tools and food in caves throughout the Upper Santa Clara Valley. The most famous bounty of Tataviam artifacts comes from Bowers Cave near Val Verde, outside the Newhall Ranch study area. Bowers Cave was found and looted by two local teenagers in 1884, its rare religious artifacts ending up in Harvard University's Peabody Museum of American Ethnology. Whitley and Simon discovered a cave that once stored Tataviam baskets and tools, and while it yielded a variety of deposits, it too had been looted.
    Only about 1,000 Tataviam occupied the entire valley when the first Euro-Americans arrived in AD 1769, and none seem to have lived within the study area after AD 1200. The archaeologists hypothesize that a wide-scale inland population expansion began about 4,000 years ago, when one dry period ended, and that the population tapered about 800 years ago, when another dry period started.
    Archaeological work was monitored by the California Indian Council Foundation. Relics will eventually be displayed locally. Whitley and Simon recommend that the three significant prehistoric sites be preserved or salvaged. In the unlikely event that new discoveries are made during the development of Newhall Ranch, the archaeologists will take another look.
    Part 3: The Tataviam get baptized and disappear.
Go to Part 1
Go to Part 3

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