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Household and Community Organization at Nimatlala, an Island Chumash Village on Limuw (Santa Cruz Island), California

  • Author(s): Sutton, Elizabeth Anne
  • Advisor(s): Glassow, Michael A
  • et al.
Abstract

The Chumash living in the Santa Barbara Channel region at the time of European contact in AD 1542, and into the Early Historic period (AD 1782-1834), are described in historic documents as living a sedentary lifestyle settled in large, permanent villages. Although archaeologists working in the region today have a number of historical sources and ethnographic records to contextualize their work, little archaeological research using modern excavation and laboratory techniques has been undertaken, and much remains unknown about how the Chumash organized their households and communities and constructed economic, political, and social relationships.

Recently, a few late prehistoric and historic sites on the Northern Channel Islands have been identified and recorded away from permanent village sites. Three of these small sites (SCRI-324, -384, -801) located in the interior of Santa Cruz Island are believed to represent the Early Historic period village of Nimatlala. These sites appear to be very different from other Early Historic period villages in that they contain smaller house depressions and shallow midden deposits. Excavation of houses and deposits at SCRI-324 and SCRI-384 was undertaken in an effort to discern the chronology of occupation, the organization of households and the community as a whole, and the nature of activities undertaken at the site.

Results indicate that the houses were occupied by fewer individuals than was typical, although residents of the village did invest substantial labor at the sites, constructing houses and possibly a small sweat lodge. This suggests that while occupation may not have been permanent, it was significant. Residents were involved in a number of activities including the production of shell beads and ornaments, the production and maintenance of stone tools, and the collection and processing of plant and animal foods. Additionally, an analysis of the activities in which the community was engaged reveals how residents created and maintained their identity through daily practice against the backdrop of significant social, political, and economic transformation in colonial-era California.

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