Archaeology Exhibit in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Traditional Cooking Pot and Ladle Made by Tirsa Flores Castro

CRITCA worked with state park staff to develop an exhibit that incorporates archaeological materials to explain how food was prepared in San Diego during the time it was a Mexican town. The project included original research by CRITCA on what foods were consumed and how they were prepared. It will be seen by thousands of visitors to the state park.

The goal of the exhibit is to inform and educate the public on what types of food were commonly prepared in Californio household kitchens by using data from the archaeological excavations at the Casa de Bandini (now the Cosmopolitan Hotel). The excavations were conducted as part of a restoration project. The focus is on the foods and their preparation rather than serving and dining. A small exhibit case will hold materials related to Californio food preparation:

–Archaeological examples of brownware cooking vessels from the Casa de Bandini kitchen excavations housed at San Diego Archaeological Center (SDAC)
–Archaeological specimens of butchered cow bone (from the Casa de Bandini kitchen excavations housed at SDAC)
–Period illustrations of people cooking during the Californio period
–Examples of commonly prepared foods:
Pinto beans
Corn (hominy and tortilla)
Sonora wheat (bread and tortilla)
Meat (beef) roasted on a skewer
–Period descriptions and archaeological information about the food that was prepared. For example, that meat was eaten roasted and most foods were prepared in liquid and cooked over an open fire in round-bottomed brownware cooking vessels sitting on stones.
–Period appropriate tools, such as a metal cleaver made by the Old Town blacksmiths

Labor to select the archaeological specimens and provide background research for the exhibit content and text was provided by Dr. Susan Hector and Mr. Michael Sampson, Center for Research in Traditional Cultures of the Americas. This effort included extensive research on historic brownware, foods prepared during the Californio period, and cooking methods.

The building now known as the Cosmopolitan Hotel was originally constructed between 1827 – 1829 by Don Juan Bandini for his family. The Bandini family lived in their single story adobe home for 30 years. The fortunes of the Bandinis declined after California became part of the United States and the building was purchased by Albert Seeley in 1859. He added a second wood frame story and turned the home into a hotel. The hotel operated until its sale in 1887 due to a decline in Seeley’s stagecoach business. The railroad had come to Old Town and big changes were underway in San Diego.

In 2004, the State began developing a plan to rehabilitate the building. Archaeological studies from 2007 – 2010 were part of the proposed work, and many important discoveries were made. Animal bone and pottery were found in what had been the kitchen of the Bandini family home. Analysis and interpretation of these discoveries enabled archaeologists to understand and explain how and what types of foods were prepared for the family. This information, in turn, tells us how people lived in Old Town when it was still part of the nation of Mexico.

Many of the people who lived and worked in Old Town were Natives of the area, representing the Kumeyaay and other tribes. The cooks who worked for the Bandini family were most likely Kumeyaay men and women. They adapted their traditional pottery cooking vessels to prepare a variety of new foods. These meals, which always included beans, were cooked in pots over an open fire, and meat was roasted on skewers and forks. Tortillas, made of corn and flour, were cooked on griddles. Peppers and onions were added to the beans as desired. Occasionally small chunks of leftover meat and bone were included in the stew.

In addition to donated research labor, the Center funded residue analysis on a selection of brownware sherds from the Bandini kitchen (Cosmopolitan Hotel excavations) and the Silvas-McCoy home to identify what types of foods were cooked in Californio kitchens. CRITCA submitted samples to the ethnobotany lab at University of California, Santa Barbara, for analysis. The lab was asked to look for evidence of the foods most commonly cooked in pots.

CRITCA commissioned a traditional style cooking vessel for the exhibit. The cooking pot and ladle were made for the exhibit by Tirsa Flores Castro and donated to State Parks by CRITCA.


We thank our CRITCA donors whose support made this project possible. Funding for this project was also provided by participating individuals and organizations:
Boosters of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park (BOOT)
Daughters of the American Revolution, San Diego Chapter
NWB Environmental Services
ASM Affiliates
Stephen Van Wormer

The project could not have been completed without assistance by:
San Diego Archaeological Center
Tirsa Flores Castro, Santa Catarina, Baja California, Mexico
Special thanks to Mike Wilken for facilitating acquisition of the pot and ladle

And of course thanks to California State Parks staff for encouraging and supporting this project, particularly Amy Lew and Nicole Turner. Your commitment inspires us.

McCoy-Silvas Pottery Analysis

In April, 2018, we began an analysis of potsherds from the McCoy-Silvas site in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. The purpose of the analysis is to test the results of the Harkleroad pilot study using archaeological material. The McCoy-Silvas collection is ideal for this purpose because the brownware body sherds are well preserved, associated with residential locations where cooking and storage would be expected, and dated to 1830s-1840s. Native people living in the Californio community of San Diego produced the pottery using traditional and nontraditional techniques. The analysis includes identification of attributes such as fire clouding, charring, wipe marks, rim shape (if present), and firing method. We also have received permission to submit selected sherds for organic residue analysis and are seeking funding for this special study. The photo below shows an ideal candidate for residue analysis (metric scale). What was being cooked in Old Town in the early 19th century?

Yokuts Pottery Research

This study focuses on the southern Central Valley ceramic tradition, which is isolated from the far southwestern tradition and existed only in a restricted area occupied by the Yokuts and Western Mono people of the western Sierra Nevada foothills. Minimal research has been done on this ceramic tradition; Anna Gayton’s work with collections and in the field in the 1920s stands as the most thorough coverage of the subject to date. In 1990, William Wallace summarized Gayton’s work in a paper prepared for a conference.

Yokuts pottery is coiled, but the coils are scraped or wiped rather than joined using a paddle and anvil. The vessel is formed in a basket base, and most pots are flat on the bottom. Some have small tabular handles near the rims. Many have been treated on the exterior, whether used for cooking or other purposes.

SIM #082-190-183 (photograph by Michael Sampson)

We were able to conduct analysis in person for one collection of Yokuts pottery vessels. In 2016, Christopher Corey, Senior State Archaeologist for California State Parks, brought to our attention that the State Indian Museum (SIM), located in Sacramento, housed a collection of Yokuts pottery. Over a period of two days in April, 2018, we conducted detailed analysis of 16 vessels. The work was coordinated by Nancy Jenner, Curator, SIM, and we were supported by her staff members Pepper Youngs, Nikola Sanguinetti, Edgar Huerta, and Ursula Filice. Their assistance was crucial, and consisted of retrieving and unpacking the pots, assisting with measurements and descriptions, and facilitating photography.

The Yokuts pots at the SIM had limited information about provenience, and no information about the collector(s). Therefore it is not known when they were collected, but the first quarter of the 20th century is a reasonable guess. They were most probably donated by private individuals to the state following discovery.

We also studied other collections of Yokuts vessels housed at the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology, the Field Museum, and Sequoia National Park through information in museum catalogs and photographs. In total, our research included 69 complete Yokuts vessels. Since there is no typology for Yokuts pottery, we developed one based on function and form of the vessel.

A report is in preparation describing in detail the 16 vessels at the SIM as well as our observations about the other pots in museum collections. We believe that this report will be a significant contribution to the understanding of Great Basin and California pottery.

Documentation of Harkleroad Collection Completed

The Center completed documentation of 467 southern California/northern Baja California pottery vessels housed at the San Diego Museum of Man. Known as the Harkleroad collection, most of the pots are complete and represent a unique opportunity to photograph, measure, and record a variety of attributes. Analysis is underway, and information about the pilot study and preliminary results will be available at the upcoming Society for California Archaeology meetings in San Diego. The Center would like to thank our interns, Museum staff, and our tribal participant who is an expert in traditional knowledge about Native pottery. She will be the recipient of a Center grant to support preparation of a report on her observations during the documentation process.

Chumash Painted Cave: A Traditional Location In The Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara County, California

By Michael P. Sampson

Elements of rock art, either in the form of pictographs (rock paintings) or petroglyphs (pecked or incised elements on rock), are widely believed by native people and researchers to possess ritualistic importance to those who produced it and the sites are usually considered sacred. Rocks, mountains, caves, springs, and other landscape features, are well documented to possess power, sacredness, or special significance for indigenous people in California and beyond and can serve as mnemonic places with images that are important for legends. Caves, according to oral tradition among California Indian groups, are considered the place where the world began, or as a place where power could be acquired and lives of people enhanced; caves are viewed as entryways to a spiritual or sacred dimension outside of everyday life. Thus, caves or rockshelters are natural locations to be used by native people, in particular, individuals with inherent powers such as shamans (religious leaders and doctors), to produce pictographs and petroglyphs.

Chumash Painted Cave, located within the Santa Ynez Mountains near San Marcos Pass and owned by California State Parks, is one such special place that holds an extraordinary array of polychrome pictographs (rock paintings). The cave, situated at an elevation of 2,600 feet, lies within a steep-sided, densely wooded hillside. Oak trees and various chaparral shrubs are abundantly present here, with bay laurel and sycamore trees also adjacent to the cave. The cave, containing pictographs rendered in black, red, and white pigments, had apparently formed over considerable time through erosion of the geologically soft sandstone outcropping at this location. The front of the cave is characterized by a distinctive series of wind-eroded pockets that align in a honeycomb-like patterning. The effect of this arrangement of erosional pockets draws one’s attention toward the cave, and likely also did so for the prehistoric Chumash who first came to the cave. Natural wind erosion continues to this day inside the cave and removed a significant portion of the prehistoric paintings that were originally present on the cave walls.



A variety of well-executed geometric and stylized animal and human elements are painted within the cave. The most recognizable figures include a centipede, diamond chains (generally believed to represent the rattlesnake), sun-like paintings, and anthropomorphs. The pictographs are open for public viewing via Painted Cave Road, as the cave site and its adjoining 8 acres are owned by the California State Park System; however, parking is limited along this narrow road. A metal mesh locked gate, installed in 1908 by a former landowner, blocks direct access to the cave interior but permits viewing of the paintings. Graffiti etched into some of the ancient paintings, predating the gate installation, are a strong reminder of the need for this locked gate and continued protection. Today, California State Parks carefully controls access inside the cave due to the delicate nature of the sandstone and cultural importance of the paintings. A few isolated painted motifs are located outside the cave entrance high on the cliff.


A commonly-held hypothesis relating to the derivation of many pictographs and petroglyphs in California and elsewhere, including among the Chumash, proposes that elements of rock art represent the manifestation of a shaman’s dream experiences, or vision quest. The shaman traveled to world of the supernatural through these dream experiences—either to perform a benevolent act, such as curing, inducing rainfall, and for other purposes, or to perform an act of malevolence. Those dreams or trances experienced by the shamans were induced either (1) by ingesting plant hallucinogens, (2) as a result of extreme deprivation during fasts and sleeplessness, and/or (3) through physical stress. Two plants commonly used by California Indians for ceremonial purposes were Native tobacco (Nicotiana spp.), which is relatively potent, and jimsonweed or toloache (Datura spp.). The most common species of jimsonweed in the traditional territory of the Chumash is Datura wrightii; there are three species of Nicotiana within Chumash territory. Among the Chumash, jimsonweed was ingested during initiation rites and administered by a shaman, taken to avoid misfortune, used as a curative for various ills, and most particularly consumed by shamans to establish contact with the supernatural, as noted above. [The reader should be aware that both native tobacco and jimsonweed are toxic and should not be ingested; one can become exceedingly ill from their use.]


Chumash Painted Cave possesses certain painted elements that may depict astronomical events in the past, in particular–a solar eclipse that occurred on November 24, 1677–according the late anthropologist Travis Hudson.* Other rock art sites in Chumash territory and elsewhere in California are hypothesized by researchers to hold astronomical associations from which solstice and equinox events, constellations in the heavens, or appearances of comets were observed and documented. A study by Travis Hudson, Georgia Lee, and Ken Hedges* provided a detailed review of ethnographic accounts for observations of solstice events among California Indian groups and discussed rock art sites identified as solstice observation places, including sites in traditional Chumash territory. Hudson and Underhay* made the following conclusion based upon a study of Chumash ethnographic information related to this subject: “…the Chumash shaman-priests were watching the heavens in earnest and observing the motions, positions, “behavior,” and characteristics of a large number of celestial objects. The daily movements of the sun and moon were unquestionably followed, as were those of a large number of stars, constellations, and planets.” David Whitley, a noted rock art researcher, has however recommended we view the solar eclipse hypothesis related to specific painted elements at Chumash Painted Cave with caution, and pointed out that ethnographic accounts for the use of Chumash paintings to record eclipses are lacking.


We would argue that Chumash Painted Cave and other sites with pictographs and petroglyphs functioned as places of ritual practice; here, individuals sought power and spiritual renewal and they served as locations where a balance between the dynamic forces in nature were sought. Among the Chumash, such ritualistic practitioners were all members of a prestigious cult called the ‘antap; only the ‘antap cult members could have entered such a powerful place as this cave and then produced the paintings that we see today. Those Chumash who were not members of ‘antap would avoid such places as Chumash Painted Cave and other area rock art sites.

The visitor to Chumash Painted Cave should act with respect as this is a place sacred in Native American culture. Please stay on the trail, but, do sign the visitor book. This cultural property and all archaeological sites within California State Parks and other public lands are protected by law.

*See Bibliography below


For additional information on Chumash Painted Cave, prehistoric rock art, cultural landscapes, and other topics discussed in this blog post, the reader can consult the following documents as well as others not listed here.

Richard B. Applegate (1975) The Datura Cult Among the Chumash. The Journal of California Anthropology Vol. 2 (1):7-17.

Keith H. Basso (1996) Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Lowell John Bean, Sylvia Brakke Vane, and J. Young (1991) The Cahuilla Landscape: The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Ballena press Anthropological Papers No. 37.

Robert S. Begole (1984) Equinox, Solstice and World Renewal. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly 20(4):1-12.

C. William Clewlow, Jr. (1978) Prehistoric Rock Art. In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 619-625. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Lora Cline (1984) Just Before Sunset. LC Enterprises, Tombstone, Arizona.

Constance Goddard DuBois (1908) The Religion of the Luiseno Indians of Southern California. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 8(3):69-186.

Lynn H. Gamble and Michael Wilken-Robertson (2008) Kumeyaay Cultural Landscapes of Baja California’s Tijuana River Watershed. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 28:215-227.

Alan P. Garfinkel and Harold Williams (2011) Handbook of the Kawaiisu. Wa-hi Sina’avi Publications, Tehachapi, California.

Amy J. Gilreath (2007) Rock Art in the Golden State: Pictographs and Petroglyphs, Portable and Panoramic. In California Prehistory: Colonization, Culture, and Complexity edited by Terry L. Jones and Kathryn A. Klar, pp. 273-290. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham.

Campbell Grant (1966) The Rock Paintings of the Chumash. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Susan M. Hector (2009) Cupule Petroglyphs as Elements of the Cultural Landscape. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 29:68-76.

Ken Hedges (1981) Winter Solstice Observatory Sites in Kumeyaay Territory, San Diego County, California. In Archaeoastronomy in the Americas, edited by Ray A. Williamson, pp. 151-156. Ballena Press Anthropological Papers No. 22.

Ken Hedges (1983) The Shamanic Origins of Rock Art. In Ancient Images on Stone, edited by Jo Anne Von Tilburg, pp. 46-61. The Rock Art Archive, The Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.

Ken Hedges (1992) Shamanistic Aspects of California Rock Art. In California Indian Shamanism, edited by Lowell John Bean, pp. 67-88. Ballena Press, Menlo Park, California.

Travis Hudson (1982) Guide to Painted Cave. McNally & Loftin, Publishers, Santa Barbara, California. [This is a brief guide book to Chumash Painted Cave authored by the late Curator of Anthropology at the Santa Barbara County Museum of Natural History.]

Travis Hudson and Kathleen Conti (1984) The Rock Art of Indian Creek: Ritual Sanctuary of the Gifted Chumash. In Papers on Chumash Rock Art, pp. 47-88. Occasional paper #12, San Luis Obispo County Archaeological Society.

Travis Hudson and Ernest Underhay (1978) Crystals in the Sky: An Intellectual Odyssey Involving Chumash Astronomy, Cosmology and Rock Art. Ballena Press Anthropological Papers No. 10.

Travis Hudson, Georgia Lee, and Ken Hedges (1979) Solstice Observers and Observatories in Native California. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology Vol. 1 (1):39-63.

William D. Hyder (1989) Rock Art and Archaeology in Santa Barbara County, California. San Luis Obispo County Archaeological Society, Occasional Paper No. 13.

William Hyder and Georgia Lee (2015) Chumash Paintings on Stone. In First Coastal Californians, edited by Lynn H. Gamble, pp. 89-96. School of Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Don Jewell (1987) Indians of the Feather River: Tales and Legends of Concow Maidu of California. Ballena Press, Menlo Park, California.

Manfred Knaak (1988) The Forgotten Artist: Indians of Anza-Borrego and Their Rock Art. Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, Borrego Springs, California.

Georgia Lee (1977) Chumash Mythology in Paint and Stone. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly Vol. 13(3):1-14.

Georgia Lee (1997) The Chumash Cosmos: Effigies, Ornaments, Incised Stones and Rock Paintings of the Chumash Indians. Bear Flag Books, Arroyo Grande, California.

Ruby Modesto and Guy Mount (1980) Not for Innocent Ears: Spiritual Traditions of a Desert Cahuilla Medicine Woman. Sweetlight Books, Angelus Oaks, California.

Gerald A. Smith and Steven M. Freers (1994) Fading Images: Indian Pictographs of Western Riverside County. Riverside Museum Press, Riverside, California.

Julian H. Steward (1929) Petroglyphs of California and Adjoining States. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 24(2). University of California, Berkeley.

Dorothea J. Theodoratus and Frank La Pena (1994) Wintu Sacred Geography of Northern California. In Sacred Sites, Sacred Places, edited by David L. Carmichael, Jane Hubert, Brian Reeves, and Audhild Schanche, pp. 20-31. Routledge, London.

Jan Timbrook (2007) Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge among the Chumash People of Southern California. Heyday Books, Berkeley, California.

D.L. True and Georgia Waugh (1986) To-Vah: A Luiseño Power Cave. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 8:269-273.

David S. Whitley (1996) A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana. [Chumash Painted Cave is specifically discussed on pp. 170-174.]

David S. Whitley (2000) The Art of the Shaman: Rock Art of California. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Mission La Purisima Concepción de Maria Santisima: A Spanish Mission in Santa Barbara County, California.

By Michael P. Sampson

Few traditional locations in present-day California are more emblematic of its early history or more recognizable than the twenty-one Spanish missions found along the El Camino Real from San Diego to Sonoma.

Photo 1

On July 16, 1769, Father Junípero Serra dedicated Mission San Diego de Alcalá as the first mission in Alta California [the present-day state of California]. The northernmost and last mission developed in Alta California, San Francisco Solano in the town of Sonoma, was founded on July 4, 1823. The Spanish, as part of their colonization effort, also formed four presidios, or military garrisons, and three pueblos, where Spanish citizens lived. The colonization of Alta California by the Spanish in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century served to sustain their foothold on the Pacific Coast of North America in light of territorial expansions by the English and the Russians along the west coast. The missions, considered indispensable to the Spanish goal of colonizing Alta California, were operated by missionaries of the Franciscan order. Each Spanish mission in Alta California was situated near the villages of Native people, close to reliable water, adjacent to arable land, and chosen with consideration of the marching distance to the next mission.

The Spanish missions in Alta California operated as self-sufficient agrarian enterprises that consisted of a vast complex of buildings functioning as residences, food preparation areas, workshops, a church and adjacent cemetery, as well as, gardens, vineyards, water conveyance systems, industrial structures (e.g., mills, tanning vats, etc.), and fields.

Photo 2

The labor force at each mission primarily was provided by the “neophytes,”, that is, local Native people. It was the intent of the mission founders that Native people who were brought to reside at the mission would be taught the Catholic faith by the Franciscan missionaries and trained in European crafts and trades.

Photo 2A

Thus, California’s Native people represented the key element to the Spanish goal of occupying Alta California. From the Spanish viewpoint, the Native Californian people who were taken to the missions would be converted into Catholic peasant citizens, that is, become gente de razón.

The mission experience for the California Natives, however, is a complex topic. From the perspective of the Native people, they were forced to leave their traditional lands, required to abandon their culture, and treated poorly if they did not conform to the expectations of the mission administrators. Many Native people attempted to flee the missions and were forcefully brought back, and traditional ways were practiced beyond the watchful eyes of the padres. Certainly, the forced relocation of Native people to missions had a far-reaching and permanent impact on traditional Native Californian culture. Native Californian people today honor their traditional culture, while many descendants of the mission neophytes still practice the Catholic faith.

The visitors to most Spanish missions today find it difficult to visualize the variety of activities that occurred at the missions of the late eighteenth century and early decades of the nineteenth century. Mission La Purisima Concepción de Maria Santisima (hereafter, referred to as Mission La Purisima), located near the city of Lompoc in San Barbara County, is one of the few mission sites today that is still situated in a rural area.   A visit to Mission La Purisima, owned and skillfully operated by the California State Park System and a group of dedicated volunteers, is a step into the past and permits the visitor to better comprehend life at the mission and gain some sense of the Spanish mission system.

Mission La Purisima was founded on December 8, 1787 under the administrative guidance of Father Fermin de Lasuén, who was then Father Presidente of all missions in California. The mission in 1787 was situated south of the Santa Ynez River in what is today the city of Lompoc at a place the local Native people, the Chumash, called Algsacupi. The buildings of this original mission, known today as “Mission Vieja,” were mostly destroyed by an earthquake on December 21, 1812 and the rains that followed. By the time of the earthquake, the Franciscans had been successful in relocating many of the Chumash to this mission from their villages. However, the mortality rate of the Native neophytes was high, prompting ever increasing forays into the Native villages to replace those who died from diseases brought by the Spanish.

Mission La Purisima was moved in April 1813 to its present location, a canyon the Spanish called “Los Berros” [watercress]; this location had the Chumash place name of Amúu.

Photo 3

The Spanish continued to be successful in relocating the Chumash from their native villages into Mission La Purisima after this move but the rate of deaths among the neophytes also increased – triggering ever more intensive attempts to bring the Chumash from their traditional villages and keep those who wanted to leave from doing so. Mission La Purisima proved to be a highly successful agricultural enterprise during time the Spanish administered the mission as evidenced by the strong crop production numbers and high numbers of livestock. Considerable information about the neophytes and their condition, as well as mission crop production, livestock numbers, etc., is available today because the Spanish Franciscan missionaries maintained excellent records.


Mission lands throughout California were secularized in 1834. Significant portions of Mission La Purisima and its vast landholdings were given as land grants to Mexican citizens by the Mexican government. Thereafter, the mission experienced a marked decrease in agricultural production, the number of Chumash living at the mission declined, and the mission buildings and landscape features slowly deteriorated. Finally, the actual mission buildings were sold on December 6, 1845 by Mexican Governor Pio Pico to John Temple, thus closing this chapter in California history. California State Parks acquired the Mission and surrounding acreage in 1935.

The main mission buildings, structures, and landscape features at Mission La Purisima today were reconstructed or significantly restored by Civil Conservation Corps workers in the 1930s, who labored under the direction of National Park Service staff and other experts. [A first-hand account of the 1930s work by the Civilian Conservation Corps at Mission La Purisima is provided in the 1991 book by Hageman and Ewing cited below.] Some buildings that had been present at the time the mission operated, such as the Neophyte Family Housing, have not been reconstructed.

Photo 5

Archaeology typically plays a crucial role in the reconstruction and restoration of historic buildings and structures, most often by providing information unavailable in historical documents and through exposing the tangible evidence of daily life, such as, artifacts and food remains. The reconstruction and rebuilding efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps at Mission La Purisima in the 1930s were preceded by archaeological excavations that complemented the historical research on the mission. These archaeological excavations unearthed the physical remains of the mission buildings and structures, thereby indicating the exact outline and size of them, their configuration, the number of rooms, the specific functions of various rooms, the alignment of aqueducts or other features, and yielded the actual implements used on a daily basis at the mission.

Photo 6

The archaeological efforts of the 1930s at Mission La Purisima represent the earliest large-scale investigation within an historic-period site in California at the time, and the National Park Service staff and the Civilian Conservation Corps workers used a methodology more rigorous than was standard for archaeological investigations in the 1930s. Subsequent archaeological excavations at Mission La Purisima, such as the work of archaeologists from the University of California at Santa Barbara, California State Parks archaeologists, and other researchers, have produced additional important information about life at the mission and the exact uses of structural remains.

The historical record at Mission la Purisima is colored by the worldview and religious fervor of the Spanish priests who managed the mission. The archaeological record of Mission La Purisima, however, reveals a different and compelling perspective that directly reflects the behavior of the neophytes, that is, those who day-to-day used the tools and resided in the residences at the mission uncovered during the excavations. The Chumash neophytes at Mission La Purisima, for example, performed their daily mission chores and prayed as directed by the Franciscan fathers, while also maintaining important aspects of their traditional culture, such as the use of traditional stone and bone implements to perform mission chores and use of traditional tools for domestic tasks and practices in their residences.

Photo 7

The Chumash people living at the mission also regularly gathered traditional foods outside the mission grounds, maintained many traditional rituals, and continued regular interactions with Native people outside the mission purview. This uneven pattern of acculturation among the Mission la Purisima neophytes, repeated at the other Spanish missions in Alta California, demonstrated that traditional culture cannot be removed like changing clothes. California Native people as a whole, too, greatly valued individuality which was antithetical to the discipline and structure of daily life demanded by the Franciscan priests at the missions. The archaeological record at Mission La Purisima and other missions clearly indicates the California Native people displayed an extraordinary resilience of traditional values, worldview, and practices and resisted the European way of life during their actual conduct of daily actions.

For additional information on Mission La Purisima and topics discussed in the preceding narrative, the reader can consult the following publications (as well as others not listed here):

Boletín, Journal of the California Mission Studies Association.

California Department of Parks and Recreation website: Mission La Purisima State Historic Park.

Edward D. Castillo (1978) The Impact of Euro-American Exploration and Settlement. In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 99-127. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. [This is a frank discussion of the effects of European colonization upon the California Indians.]

Julia G. Costello and John R. Johnson (2015) Colonization’s Cultural Earthquake. In First Coastal Californians, edited by Lynn H. Gamble, pp. 97-104. School of Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico. [Drs. Costello and Johnson are experts on the Chumash in the historic era and authorities on the Spanish missions.]

James J. F. Deetz (1963) Archaeological Investigations at La Purisima Mission. University of California, Los Angeles, Archaeological Survey Annual Report, 1962-1963, pp. 159-246. Department of Anthropology and Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles. [The late James Deetz was a well-respected historical archaeologist who at the time of the study taught at UC Santa Barbara.]

Fr. Zephyrin Engelhardt, O. F. M. (1986) Mission La Concepcion Purisima De Maria Santisima. McNally & Loftin, Publishers, Santa Barbara, California. [This important book, originally published in 1932, contains considerable primary information from Spanish mission archives.]

Glenn J. Farris and Elise Wheeler (1998) The Neophyte Housing and Infirmary at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park: A Review and Remapping of the Site. Report on file, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Sacramento. [This report contains a nice history of the mission and includes a documentation of the neophytes who resided in the Neophyte Family Housing site at Mission La Purisima based upon research with mission archives.]

Roberta S. Greenwood (1978) Obispeño and Purisimeño Chumash. In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 520-523. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Kent G. Lightfoot (2005) Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers. University of California Press, Berkeley. [This book contains a very thoughtful discussion on the Spanish missions in Alta California and their impacts upon the lives of California Indians and the cultural responses to European colonization by the Indian people.]

Fred C. Hageman and Russell C. Ewing (1991) An Archaeological and Restoration Study of Mission La Purísima Concepcion. Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Santa Barbara, California. [Hageman was the National Park Service architectural foreman for the 1930s restoration and Ewing was a National Park Service Historian assigned to the 1930s project.]

Robert L. Hoover (2002) Excavations at the Mystery Column: The Possible Remains of a Wind-Powered Wool Fulling Post Mill in La Purísima Mission State Historic Park. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly Volume 37 (1):37-50.

Mission Vieja, the First Location of La Purisima Mission, 1787-1812, in Lompoc, California. A brochure published by and available at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park.

Tsim D. Schneider (2015) Rebellions, Resistance, and Runaways in Colonial Times.  In First Coastal Californians, edited by Lynn H. Gamble, pp. 105-110. School of Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Robert L. Schuyler (1978) Indian-Euro-American Interaction: Archaeological Evidence from Non-Indian Sites. In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 69-79. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Kevin Starr (2005) California: A History. The Modern Library, New York.

Edith Buckland Webb (1952) Indian Life at the Old Missions. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. [A classic study with many old photographs of the missions.]



The Pictographs: A Rock Art Site in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

By Michael P. Sampson

The Pictographs Site, as it is identified by staff at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and on park tour maps, is located in Smuggler Canyon and sits adjacent to Little Blair Valley within the park. Park staff allow public visitation and provide signs and a footpath to the site; a visit to this site requires an approximately one-mile-long hike along rocky and sandy soils. The pictographs, or rock paintings, can be observed on the vertical face of a sizable granitic boulder that adjoins the footpath. As with Mine Wash Village and Morteros Village that we discussed in previous blog posts, the Pictographs Site is located within traditional Kumeyaay territory (also referred to as Tipai, meaning “people,” who are the southern dialect speakers). This site is designated in the California Historic Resources system as CA-SDI-31, which indicates it was one of the earliest archaeological properties recorded in San Diego County.


The painted elements of the Pictographs Site consist of zig-zags, diamond chains, wavy lines, a circle with rays, a small human-like figure, and other skillfully depicted motifs painted in red and yellow pigment. The pigments are typically derived from locally available minerals (e.g., red iron oxide or hematite to produce red). The mineral would be combined with a natural binder such as oil from plants or grease from animals. The painted elements found here are considered by rock art researchers as representative of the San Luis Rey Style, a rock art type most often observed among the Payomkawichum (also referred to historically as Luiseño) people in the Late Prehistoric Period (beginning ca. AD 1200) and historic period. Traditional territory of the Payomkawichum territory bordered the northern dialect-speaking Kumeyaay (also known as Ipai), but the Payomkawichum spoke a significantly different language. This site in Smuggler Canyon is thus the southernmost extension of the San Luis Rey Style in Southern California. A 1994 book by Gerald Smith and Steven Freers (see citation below) has an excellent discussion of pictographs in the San Luis Rey rock art style.


Rock art sites, including those within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, are recognized as being important aspects of ritual for the Indian people who produced it, and the sites were and are considered sacred. Many pictographs in California and elsewhere are thought to represent the manifestation of a shaman’s [a religious leader] dream experiences. Those dreams or trances could have been induced by ingesting plant hallucinogens, as a result of extreme deprivation during fasts and sleeplessness, and/or through physical stress. Native tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) and toloache (Datura spp.) were two plants commonly used by California Indians for ceremonial purposes. Properly prepared and managed by a shaman, these plants can be hallucinogens.

Some rock art sites may hold astronomical associations, such as depicting a solstice, a historical eclipse, or other such event. San Luis Rey Style rock art has been associated with the puberty rites of young women in Payomkawichum culture and were no doubt important in other aspects of cultural practices. However, the pictograph panel at The Pictographs Site in Smuggler Canyon is thought by some local rock art researchers to be the work of a single ritual artist and thus would not have been produced over time by multiple young women who participated in initiation ceremonies. The San Luis Rey Style of California Indian rock art has also been associated with the Chingichngish religion, a religious practice that flourished among the Payomkawichum, Acjachemen (Juaneño), Tongva (Gabrielino), as well as the Kumeyaay in post-Contact times, i.e., after Spanish colonization.



The presence of paintings on a boulder rendered in the San Luis Rey Style within traditional Kumeyaay territory in the southern end of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park provides evidence that religious practices were shared by neighboring ethnic groups in Southern California. Certainly, the coexistence of different tribal entities increased after the missions were established by the Spanish within present-day California (AD 1769 and later), which would have facilitated the transference of traditions as individuals from differing tribal groups resided together within the mission. And, if images on sites of the San Luis Rey Style were produced during toloache-induced trances [also known as jimsonweed from a plant of the genus Datura], the paintings at the Pictographs Site may be late nineteenth century or later in time. Ethnographic information indicates Kumeyaay people in southern San Diego County (Tipai) initially learned the use of toloache in the middle of the nineteenth century from northern Kumeyaay groups (Ipai), who had learned this religious practice from the Payomkawichum. The ceremony involving toloache use is a central part of the Chingichngish religion.

Numerous ethnographic accounts and archaeological evidence from the Colorado Desert region and other regions demonstrate that rocks, mountains, caves, and other features of the terrain possess power, sacredness, or special significance for indigenous people. We would argue that the Pictographs Site and nearby sites with rock art functioned as places of ritual practice, potentially a place where individuals sought power and spiritual renewal, or what could be termed a vision quest.

The visitor to the Pictographs Site should act with respect as this is a place sacred in Native American culture. Do not touch the paintings or the surface of the rock where the paintings are present as such action can damage the paintings. This cultural property and all archaeological sites within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are protected by law.

Additional information related to the above discussion can be obtained by reading the following:

Lowell John Bean and Sylvia Brakke Vane (1992) California Religious Systems and Their Transformations. In California Indian Shamanism, edited by Lowell John Bean, pp.33-51. Ballena Press Anthropological Papers No. 39.

Constance Goddard DuBois (1908) The Religion of the Luiseno Indians of Southern California. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 8(3):69-186.

Ken Hedges (1992) Shamanistic Aspects of California Rock Art. In California Indian Shamanism, edited by Lowell John Bean, pp. 67-88. Ballena Press Anthropological Papers No. 39.

Ken Hedges (2002) Rock Art Styles in Southern California. American Indian Rock Art 28:25-40. American Rock Art Research Association.

Manfred Knaak (1988) The Forgotten Artist: Indians of Anza-Borrego and Their Rock Art. Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, Borrego Springs.

Katherine Luomala (1978) Tipai and Ipai. In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 592-609. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8, W. C. Sturtevant, general editor, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Gerald A. Smith and Steven M. Freers (1994) Fading Images: Indian Pictographs of Western Riverside County. Riverside Museum Press, Riverside, California.

David S. Whitley (2000) The Art of the Shaman: Rock Art of California. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

David S. Whitley (2001) A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana.


Morteros Village

by Michael P. Sampson

The Morteros Village site, another important Kumeyaay habitation area open to the public that we have recently visited, is located in Little Blair Valley, within the central portion of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The village site has been interpreted for public enjoyment of its cultural values with a guided tour trail that provides access to the site from a parking area. In recent years, California State Park staff have designated a broad portion of Little Blair Valley as a Cultural Preserve that encompasses the Morteros Village site due to the perceived cultural significance of this area. We encourage the reader to view the California State Parks website for further information about Cultural Preserves. The Morteros Village is formally recorded as site CA-SDI-2524 in the State Historical Resources Information System. Daniel McCarthy originally recorded this site in 1974, although the late Malcolm J. Rogers (San Diego Museum of Man) documented the prehistoric rock paintings found onsite with unpublished photographs and sketches in the 1930s.


The Morteros Village site is set against a steep-sided, boulder-strewn hill below Ghost Mountain. [The top of Ghost Mountain has the Marshal South home site, as well as sweeping views of the surrounding park land.] On the north and west sides of the village, one finds the open desert terrain of Little Blair Valley which displays a relatively dense vegetative cover and hills covered in boulders and vegetation. Agave (Agave deserti) is the most striking plant observed here and these plants dot the landscape in profusion. Agave was a plant of inestimable importance to the prehistoric inhabitants of this region and the American Southwest in general—as a food source, as a source of fiber for the manufacture of cordage, netting, sandals and other items, and its parts served as implements in various tasks.


The flat, open living area of Morteros Village is partitioned by sizable granitic boulders arrayed in sundry shapes and sizes that serve to create an ambience befitting a place of special cultural significance. Our attention whenever visiting Morteros Village is always captivated by the numerous cupule petroglyphs present on the assembly of boulders one encounters along the interpretive trail. The cupule petroglyphs are aligned variously, though obviously with careful forethought, on the individual boulders within the village. We particularly enjoy the low granitic boulder with the neat horizontal alignment of cupule petroglyphs next to bedrock mortars. This horizontal row alignment pattern, placed along the boulder edge, is a manifestation of cupule petroglyphs found at other regional village sites, including, the Mine Wash village, a site in McCain Valley, sites in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, and other places. [Cupule petroglyphs aligned in rows on a vertical surface also are found in regional sites, such as in Harper Flat, etc.] Apparently, the Kumeyaay residents viewed the boulders at Morteros Village as being infused with considerable supernatural power or spirituality, and they sought to draw it out. Clearly, the special qualities of this place reached well beyond the need for sustenance. The Cultural Preserve designation placed on Morteros Village and adjacent portions of Little Blair Valley reflect its extraordinary significance.



A short distance down a single-track footpath to the east from the boulders with cupule petroglyphs, one encounters a tall, roundish, and distinctive granitic boulder with a broad, flat vertical face. Black prehistoric pictographs [rock paintings] of abstract design are centered on this vertical surface. While the painted motifs are indeed “abstract” to our modern-day eyes, the paintings clearly held important connotations to the prehistoric residents of Morteros Village. It is likely a shaman, a religious leader, in the group produced the paintings purposefully, and perhaps the elements represent figures seen in a hallucinatory dream induced by fasting, sleep deprivation, and/or other means. The precise location of the pictographs on the rock face seems to us carefully chosen to lay on the path where water runs off the top of the boulder. Water is integral to life and sacred in Native American cultures.


Traditional places such as the Mine Wash Village and Morteros Village are significant in local Indian culture and reflect everyday activities and spiritual pursuits in prehistoric society. They are protected places where the visiting public is expected to behave with respect while also feeling the essence of the location and the prehistoric people who came before us. All artifacts, plants, and rocks must be left alone and in-place. Location and how artifacts, subsistence remains (e.g., bones, charcoal, etc.), bedrock features, and the terrain associate with one another are crucial to our understanding and appreciation of past human cultures. Such traditional cultural places are non-renewable.



Mine Wash

by Michael P. Sampson

The village site on Mine Wash, open to public visitation by the state, lies about 1.5 miles south of State Route 78 and measures approximately 8.4 acres in area. This archaeological site, at an elevation of 1600 feet, is situated on an alluvial fan facing north at the base of a boulder-strewn slope. [Note: Archaeologists employ the term “site” to refer to any geographic location with tangible evidence of past human activity.] Vegetation is dense onsite and within the surrounding terrain and includes numerous plants important as food, for their use in fiber production, and for other domestic activities among prehistoric peoples, such as agave, beavertail cactus, cholla, desert ironwood, galleta grass, Indian rice grass, Indian tea, Mojave yucca, and others. The village on Mine Wash has been designated with the California state site number of CA-SDI-813, indicating it is an archaeological site recorded in San Diego County with records maintained by the California Historical Resources Information System (a program of the State Office of Historic Preservation). Based on the results of archaeological research conducted here in the 1980s, the village was initially occupied at least 1110 years ago, and perhaps slightly earlier, and no longer occupied after about 300 years ago.

View of CA-SDI-813 with Mine Wash.JPG

It showed no evidence for occupation by Indian people in historic times, although many other villages in the western Colorado Desert were indeed occupied through the 19th century and early 20th century. Previous archaeological work at the village on Mine Wash and so many of its conspicuous surface bedrock mortars, metates, and pounding areas tell us plant food processing and plant fiber processing were important prehistoric work activities. It is no surprise that the village has a large number of these bedrock surfaces used in pounding and grinding activities, implements used in concert with handstones, given its setting at the base of a boulder-strewn slope of the Pinyon Mountains.


The site surface exhibits an abundance of the material remains of stone tool making, known as flintknapping, and the pit roasting of food plants, especially, agave, in earth ovens. Quartzite and granitic rocks were most commonly employed to create the tools observed onsite; both are relatively hard, readily available materials and quartzite when flaked makes a sharp, durable working edge. A source of high-quality quartzite was found by us within Mine Canyon a relatively short distance south of the village.


The inhabitants of this village were traders and active users of nonlocal materials, as shown by the presence of beads from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California, obsidian from the Salton Basin (where the Salton Sea is located today), and fish and mammal bone from species not native to the immediate area. The setting of the Mine Wash village site and its abundant material remains are in our view consistent with ethnographic accounts about prehistoric lifeways of this region, such as the information provided by Kwaaymii Elder Tom Lucas in the 1984 book Just Before Sunset and other works. Thus, we see that the cultural information obtained in the early decades of the 20th century from Indian people reflect ancient cultural practices.


The village on Mine Wash also has granitic boulders containing cupule petroglyphs, which are manifested as small, roundish, shallow, smoothed depressions. Cupule petroglyphs served a variety of critical functions in prehistoric society throughout California and elsewhere, and has been associated with the enhancement of female fertility, employed in attempts to manipulate weather, produced during boys’ puberty ceremonies, used as trail markers, produced while praying for a special benefit, and created to access power located within rocks. Certain rocks or other landscape features did indeed represent places of power, as told in many ethnographic accounts of Indian people in California and beyond.



We find particularly compelling the statement that cupule petroglyphs provided a means to access this power or spirituality inherent in specific rocks. In archaeological sites of San Diego County these pecked and smoothed cultural features most often occur in groupings on a single boulder and regularly will also be observed placed in a row; this pattern of cupule petroglyph clustering is seen at the Mine Wash village site too. One large boulder at the Mine Wash village contains over 200 cupule petroglyphs that are situated under an overhang of a rockshelter that have been exclusively placed on the downward portion of the boulder. The orientation of the clustered cupule petroglyphs suggests to us a purposeful positioning so that the petroglyphs faced into the interior of this rockshelter.


Within Native American culture, rockshelters and caves provided a portal into the underworld. The orientation of the cupule petroglyphs on this particular boulder then can be viewed as a recognition of the rockshelter’s function and a reason the cupule petroglyphs were placed on this specific boulder. We noted that at least seven bedrock metates, or grinding surfaces, had been established on the upper area of this same boulder. The placement of the metates, a mundane implement in prehistoric society, does not represent a contradiction to a use of this same boulder in rituals or acquisition of spiritual power. Rather, it more firmly identifies the rockshelter and the outcrops within and around the rockshelter as a women’s place. Another, smaller-sized boulder within the village site had cupule petroglyphs aligned in a row, a patterning observed by us at other village sites in San Diego County.


Two additional boulders at the village site showed evidence that the natural fractures characteristic of the granitic rock formations in the region had been artificially enhanced by pecking. Such enhancement appears to be similar in purpose to that of the manufacture and use of cupule petroglyphs on specific boulders. The presence of the cupule petroglyphs here fit within a broader regional cultural pattern indicating that the presence of powerful (“sacred”) landscape features such as rocks served as an important criterion employed by prehistoric people in choosing where to locate their villages.


The California Desert: A Place of Traditional Culture

by Michael P. Sampson

For millennia in Southern California, deserts have been places to achieve spirituality, wisdom, or revitalization, obtain daily sustenance, corridors for travel, localities for commercial uses, and other human activities. The Colorado Desert, a region encompassing Imperial County and portions of San Diego County and Riverside County, evocatively conveys the cultural significance of the desert landscape. This desert region provides opportunities for us to explore the complexities of the human experience while offering a means to achieve our own re-creation and emotional awakening. The space and peacefulness we humans find within the desert opens the mind and expands our conscience. There is a poetic beauty in the landscape features and vegetation of the Colorado Desert, which in turn allows us to connect with our inner being.


A visit to desert lands today can lead us, too, into an existential journey whereby we tangibly sense the human condition in the past. Village sites in prehistory certainly were considered for use because of the presence of certain natural resources; in the Colorado Desert, those might include agave, mesquite, water, economically important stone materials, etc. However, we at the Center for Research in Traditional Culture of the Americas believe Native American people, such as, the Cahuilla, Kumeyaay, and Kwaaymii who lived in the Colorado Desert, viewed the land more holistically and felt a strong sense of connection to places. In turn, they identified a spiritual nature in landscape features [mountains, ridges, mesas, springs, creeks, boulders, etc.] and appreciated the inherent capacity of desert lands to inspire, to provoke memories in oral traditions, and to otherwise promote knowledge and wisdom.


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a broad, timeless, geologically diverse wilderness of stark magnificence in the western Colorado Desert, abounds in locations that tell an explicit human story in prehistory and historic times. Two such places of traditional cultural importance to California’s indigenous people within this park are the village site on Mine Wash and the Morteros Village Site in Little Blair Valley. The latter two places are interpreted for the general public by the State Park and hold definitive cultural significance for the prehistoric human experience in this desert region. The State invites park visitors to experience these places as respectful visitors. In the coming blog posts, we will describe the traditional values of these places.