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Open Access Publications from the University of California

California's Prehistory as a Remembered Past


Numerous oral traditions are among the diverse sources of information available for reconstructing California's prehistory. These accounts were preserved by the prehistoric inhabitants' descendants and then documented by ethnographers, primarily during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For oral traditions to be used effectively in arriving at an understanding of factual events in the region's past, it is essential that the historicity of their content and their chronological range be critically evaluated. Empirical testing of the traditions' contents against independent evidence suggests that the traditions often preserved some elements of authentic information that extended back to well beyond the narrators' own experiences, across several generations or even through several centuries. There is no credible support for claims that events or conditions as remote as a millennium or more in the past were remembered.

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