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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 25, Issue 1, 2005

Issue cover


The Mojave River and the Central Mojave Desert: Native Settlement, Travel, and Exchange in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

In the late eighteenth century, the Mojave River and a portion of the central Mojave Desert lying to the east formed a major native travel corridor between the Colorado River and points east and the Pacific Coast. The Desert or Vanyume division of the Serrano occupied the Mojave River portion of this corridor, while the Chemehuevi branch of the Southern Paiute had settled the desert region to the east of the Sinks of the Mojave, and Desert Kawaiisu ranged to the north of the Mojave River. Mojaves' from the Colorado River villages traveled via this corridor to the San Joaquin Valley and coastal southern California. The late eighteenth-century political geography of this area appears to have reflected the importance of this travel corridor to long distance exchange, and particularly to the exchange involving Pacific coast shell beads, which were circulated far to the east of desert California. Ethnographic information on the local role of Pacific coast shell beads in facilitating intergroup exchange within this desert area is discussed. The settlement geography and inter-ethnic interactions within this central Mojave Desert region are also reviewed. This includes the apparent expulsion of the mysterious 'land Mojaves' or 'like-Mojaves' from the region before 1776, as well as the later displacement of desert Vanyume Serrano by Chemehuevis during the 1820s and later. New information on the fate of remnant Vanyume Serranos found on the Mojave River in the 1830s is also presented.

Some Additional Alexander W. Chase Materials

Alexander W. Chase carried out substantive, pioneering anthropological research during the latter part of the nineteenth century, and was a major contributor to Stephen Powers' classic monograph Tribes of California, yet his name is little recognized today. The recent discovery of some early Chase photographs, as well as a previously unknown newspaper article written by him, sheds new light on his career and contributes to a greater appreciation for his accomplishments.

How Warm Were They? Thermal Properties of Rabbit Skin Robes and Blankets

Rabbit skin robes and blankets have both considerable time depth and a wide geographic distribution throughout western North American. Primary and secondary accounts of rabbit skin robes and blankets suggest that these items are very warm. But compared to modern materials, how warm could rabbit skin robes actually have been? To determine a standardized intrinsic warmth value of rabbit skin robes we perform two tests. In the first we compare the relative temperature loss between a rabbit skin robe reproduction and four modern articles of clothing and bedding. In the second we establish the thermal conductivity (k-value)for the rabbit skin robe reproduction, which allows us to make a standardized comparison between the rabbit skin and other materials. We find that the rabbit skin robes outperform most modem materials in basic heat retention but that this may be offset by benefits in modem items such as weight and versatility.

Coastal Foraging at Otter Cave: A 6600-Year-Old Shell Midden on San Miguel Island, California

Test excavations at a small rock shelter near Otter Point on San Miguel Island produced an assemblage of well-preserved artifacts and faunal remains from buried midden deposits dated to approximately 6600 years ago. Along with an unusual assemblage of 40 Dentalium shell artifacts, faunal remains from Otter Cave (CA-SMI-605) provide valuable information on the nature of San Miguel Island environments and the adaptations of its maritime peoples during the early Middle Holocene. Here we summarize the context, chronology, nature, and implications of the Otter Cave materials. Shellfish from rocky intertidal habitats (turban snails, mussels, owl limpets, etc.) dominate the faunal assemblage, but fishing and marine mammal hunting also contributed to the subsistence of the cave occupants. We also discuss the Otter Cave data in the context of a long sequence of shell midden strata at Otter Point that span much of the past 7500 years, as well as general models for the evolution of maritime adaptations in the Santa Barbara Channel region.


The Contemporary Use of Psychoactive Mushrooms in Northern California

At the present time, the Ajumawi people living in the Fall River Valley southeast of Mount Shasta use a yellow mushroom with hallucinogenic properties (A. pantherina) for religious purposes, and have done so at least since the early part of the twentieth century. If this mushroom was used prehistorically in northern California, as is suggested here, the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in North America may have been more widespread than previously believed.

Implications of Ritual Biface Caches from the Irvine Site

Excavations at the Irvine site (CA-ORA-64) yielded two unusual cache features, each containing a pair of large ceremonial bifaces, but one of these caches also contained a plummet charmstone and a globular perforated stone. One biface was knapped of Buck Mountain obsidian, a northeastern California resource over 1100 km. from ORA- 64. Two bifaces were fashioned of dull-gray glassy materials exotic to coastal southern California, and the fourth biface was made of Monterey chert. These large ritual bifaces indicate late Early Holocene or early Middle Holocene cultural connections between the northwestern Great Basin and Orange County.

A Birdstone and Phallic Pestle Cache from CA-ORA-365

This study describes a ceremonial cache containing miniature pestle-like artifacts, a "spike " fragment, an obsidian biface, and a steatite birdstone recovered at Huntington Beach Mesa, Orange County. The phallic naturalism of one "pestle" suggests that more stylized specimens likewise denoted phallic symbols. The direct association of small "pestles" with birdstones, in this and other caches, supports the proposition that birdstones communicated fertility/fecundity symbolism.

Lost and Found

The Indians of California

The following article, which was originally published in 1870 in The American Naturalist (Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 129-148), is a vivid and sympathetic though seldom cited first-hand account of some of the Nisenan and Konkow peoples of the lower Sacramento Valley. Although it reflects some of the inherent biases characteristic of the period during which it was written, it nonetheless contains valuable ethnographic data that are still of considerable interest today. Except for slight changes in formatting and spelling, the article is reprinted verbatim. Bancroft, in his California Pioneer Register, states that Edward Chever lived in California from 1849 to 1854; his brother Henry was one of the founders of Yuba City.


Chávez-García: Negotiating Conquest: Gender and Conquest in California, 1770s to 1880s

Negotiating Conquest: Gender and Conquest in California, 1770s to 1880s. Miroslava Chavez-Garcia. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004; xx + 242 pp., maps, photographs, tables, endnotes, bibliography, index; clothbound, $39.95.

Gurcke: The Diary and Copy-book of William E.P. Hartnell, Visitador General of the Missions of Alta California in 1839 and 1840

The Diary and Copy-book of William E.P. Hartnelly Visitador General of the Missions of Alta California in 1839 and 1840. Starr Pait Gurcke (translator) and Glenn J. Farris (editor and annotator). The California Mission Studies Association and the Arthur H. Clark Company, Spokane, WA, 2004, 153 pages, 9 figures and 1 map. $24.00 (paper, non-member CMSA) ($18.00 paper, member CMSA).

Silliman: Lost Laborers in Colonial California: Native Americans and the Archaeology of Rancho Petaluma

Lost Laborers in Colonial California: Native Americans and the Archaeology of Rancho Petaluma Stephen W. Silliman. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004; 253 pages, 4 maps, 24 figures, 12 tables, $39.95 (cloth).