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Chumash Architecture: Sweatlodges and Houses


The primary objective of this paper is to examine archaeological, ethnographic, and ethnohistoric information on Chumash houses and sweatlodges. Detailed archaeological accounts describing the attributes of Chumash houses and sweatlodges are rare in the published literature. Even when archaeological information on structural remains is presented, sweatlodges and houses are not always clearly identified as such (Harrison 1965). An extensive survey of published and unpublished archaeological examples of houses and sweatlodges, with attributes of each type of structure listed, was presented in an earlier work (Gamble 1991:48-176) that contains more detailed information. This paper is a synthesis of that more comprehensive examination of the subject, and only selected archaeological examples of structures are included in this discussion. It is hoped that as a result of this analysis, archaeologists will become more aware of structural remains and attempt to identify them in the archaeological record. In the past 20 to 30 years, very few structural remains have been identified in the Chumash area, particularly in contract archaeology. This situation is the result of a number of factors, including the emphasis on excavating small units (1 x 1 m.) for purposes of testing as part of the Environmental Impact Report process. In addition, there has been a positive emphasis on the recovery of small remains, such as bone and beads, which has required a shift to smaller mesh screening. Because processing time for these smaller remains increases dramatically, there has been a tendency to reduce the number and size of units in contract archaeology. This tendency for increased analysis of small remains should not be discouraged, but archaeologists, especially those involved in data recovery or mitigation, should attempt to look for architectural remains. If structural remains are observed at sites, analyses on subjects such as spatial patterning, activity areas, and features will be more meaningful. Other impediments to identifying architectural remains in the Chumash area include bioturbation, plowing, and other activities that make it very difficult to observe sites from surface indications. House pits are observable on the Santa Barbara Channel Islands; however, most site areas on the islands are not under threat, nor are they under the auspices of contract archaeology. Through increased awareness of the types of features associated with Chumash structures, hopefully a new trend will develop where greater emphasis is placed on the recognition of architectural features.

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