Lectures and Events in 2023

The Center has scheduled six lectures and events for 2023. We invite you to participate and attend.

February 11, 2023. Dr. Hector will be participating in the 200th anniversary celebration of Los Penasquitos Ranch House Adobe, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, by presenting a lecture. The County of San Diego plans special events all month.

March 16 – 19, 2023. Dr. Hector and Mr. Sampson will be giving a paper at the Society for California Archaeology Annual Meeting (Oakland) on Presenting Archaeology to the Public with Living History Programs.

May 7, 2023. Dr. Hector will give a workshop on flax production for the San Diego Creative Weavers Guild. The presentation will include a demonstration.

May 20, 2023. Dr. Hector will give a presentation to the Mayflower Society on Textile Production in the English Colonies of America 1620 – 1776.

June 15, 2023. Mr. Sampson will give a Zoom lecture through the San Diego Archaeological Center on his research in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

August 10, 2023. Dr. Hector will give a Zoom lecture through the San Diego Archaeological Center on Textile Production in California During the Spanish and Mexican Periods 1769 – 1848.

This list will be updated as other activities are planned.

CRITCA Support for the Restoration of the Casa de Machado y Silvas, Old Town San Diego

In May, 2021, the CRITCA board voted to support the restoration of deteriorating exterior walls at the Casa de Machado y Silvas, which is located on the plaza in Old Town San Diego. The board gave a grant of $2,000 to the Boosters of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park (BOOT). BOOT donated $3,750 and a private donor contributed $1,750 for a total project cost of $7,500. The contractor will patch and repair cracks and holes in the historic building. The restoration project will make repairs and replaster the wall to retain structural integrity of the building. This project will be completed  during the summer of 2021.

The building, also known as the Commercial Restaurant, was built in the early 1840s for Maria Antonia Machado. There may have been an adobe structure on the site that was expanded and repaired at that time. Maria Antonia and her family lived in the back rooms of the adobe home after she turned the front rooms into a restaurant in the early 1850s. The restaurant served whatever Maria Antonia was cooking that day; sailors and traders purchased a ticket for a meal and ate what was served. The restaurant had a bar and offered gambling. The home was also called Casa de la Bandera because of the family story that Maria Antonia rushed out of the house and pulled the Mexican flag off the flagpole to save it as the Americans were coming into Old Town after the Battle of the Beach Road (October 1846).


As was true for most nonprofit corporations, CRITCA activities were reduced in 2020 due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Museums and research facilities were closed after March, and contact was limited to remote or virtual methods. However, we are happy to report to our supporters that we did make progress and that we have a strong plan for 2021. Here are the highlights of what we accomplished in 2020.

Archaeology Exhibit:

The Center for Research in Traditional Culture of the Americas (CRITCA) assisted California State Parks staff in the creation of an exhibit about archaeology in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park (SHP).  The exhibit contains a traditional brownware cooking vessel, dietary animal bone collected from historic-period archaeological sites within the park, potsherds (pieces of Native ceramic vessels) collected from historic-period sites in the park, and a reconstructed traditional Californio-era cooking hearth.  CRITCA arranged for a potter who lives in Baja California to produce a traditional brownware cooking vessel and ceramic ladle for use in this exhibit.  The exhibit specifically depicts traditional historic-period Californio cooking practices.  CRITCA conducted historical research and research on archaeological findings to support the exhibit and thus ensure it is historically accurate.  The exhibit is in place on the first floor of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town San Diego SHP; with the park closed due to the pandemic, the exhibit is not currently available for viewing.

Presentation at Archaeology Weekend at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park:

Dr. Susan Hector, representing CRITCA, made a presentation with Powerpoint slides at a California State Parks public event on February 29, 2020.  The Archaeology Weekend event, free to the public, was held at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center.  The subject of this 40-minute presentation was the results of a pilot study of 135 Native American ceramic vessels from the Carl Harkleroad ceramic vessel collection curated at the San Diego Museum of Us (formerly Museum of Man).  The public event took place just prior to restrictions upon public gatherings imposed by the State of California and the County of San Diego Public Health Officer due to the pandemic. 

Analysis of Plant Residue from Native American Potsherds:

Residues representing the remains of plant foods and liquids were extracted from potsherds collected during archaeological excavations at both the Casa de Bandini/Hotel Cosmopolitan and from the Eugenia Silvas/James McCoy House Site.  The Casa de Bandini potsherds are on loan to CRITCA from the San Diego Archaeological Center, while CRITCA borrowed the Eugenia Silvas/James McCoy House site potsherds from the Statewide Museum Collections Facility in Sacramento.  Both of the latter sites are located within Old Town San Diego SHP.  An anthropology graduate student at University of California Santa Barbara is conducting the residue analysis; however, the study remains incomplete due to pandemic restrictions.  The lab did extract the residues from the archaeological specimens prior to the pandemic, but a full study of those residues cannot yet be completed.  Originally, CRITCA had anticipated completion of the residue study by June 2020.

Donations Made by CRITCA:

CRITCA made a donation to help purchase medical supplies for the Dine’ people, specifically for use in a hospital on the Navajo reservation.  Many Dine’ Elders have been directly affected by COVID-19 or are thought to be highly vulnerable to the virus and its health effects.  The current public health crisis as a consequence has left knowledge of traditional culture at-risk on the Navajo Reservation.

CRITCA has set aside $2,000.00 for a historic preservation project within Old Town San Diego SHP.  The CRITCA Board would consider augmenting the above amount in 2021.  CRITCA is currently evaluating potential restoration projects for funding.

Research Articles Prepared by CRITCA:

CRITCA is currently preparing an article on prehistoric Native pottery sealing and repairs based upon observations made during our study of the Carl Harkleroad ceramic vessel collection.  Sealing refers to the materials and methods employed by the pottery users to seal up the mouths of storage vessels for protection of its contents.  Repair refers to techniques and materials used by prehistoric people to fix breaks in the body of a vessel.  The relatively large study sample size of whole vessels provided by the Carl Harkleroad collection represents an extraordinary research opportunity that is not commonly available to researchers.

CRITCA conducted research and wrote a scholarly paper on the economic plants of 19th century Californio people, with emphasis upon families who resided in present-day Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.  Upon completing this research, CRITCA submitted the paper to State Parks for use as background information on appropriate plants for gardens in Old Town San Diego State Historic park.  The paper describes food plants that would have been grown in a typical Californio kitchen garden (1821 – 1850). 

At the specific request of California State Parks staff, CRITCA conducted research on where the average Californio woman obtained her clothes.  CRITCA has conducted considerable research on Californio traditional textiles and traditional tools used in fiber preparation and clothes production.  The resulting article was submitted to parks staff for their use in determining appropriate (historic) period attire. 

Mr. Sampson submitted a 200-page monograph on the archaeology of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to staff in California State Parks headquarters for potential publication.  He has been told the monograph is under review at this time.  Mr. Sampson has also been intermittently working on other research articles that are in varying stages of completion.  He is currently writing background information (location, previous archaeological studies, history of the sites, etc.) for the CRITCA research on Native ceramic artifacts and stone artifacts from the Eugenia Silvas/James McCoy House site and the Casa de Bandini/Cosmopolitan Hotel.  This project includes the residue study alluded to above. 

We hope that 2021 will allow us to complete the research that was not possible in 2020. Our plan is to move forward this year to support independent research and publication.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.]