Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Excavation of a Kashaya Pomo Village in Northern California

As recently as the early nineteenth century many of the Native Americans of northern California walked a tightrope between prehistory and history, between a hunter-gatherer existence and "civilization". Finding equilibrium between these two expanses would require change, choice, and a challenge to retain the time-tested securities of their past. The opportunity to examine these dynamics within the context of current archaeological excavation theory exists nearby on the Sonoma County coast of northern California.

From 1812 to 1841 the Russian American Company established and maintained the fur trade colony of Ross within the homelands of the Kashaya Pomo Indians. This pluralistic colonial community was characterized by a large number of inter-ethnic households including the documented cohabitation of Kashaya Pomo women and the Native Alaskan men accompanying the Russians as sea mammal hunters.

The physical and material boundaries of the Fort Ross Archaeological Project, an ongoing UC Berkeley research program directed by Professor Kent Lightfoot, expanded during the summer of 1995 to correspond to the theoretical and methodological goals of the greater research design. The archaeological investigations of a Kashaya Pomo Village site on the ridge near the fort are being integrated with the rich ethnohistoric, ethnographic, pictorial, and linguistic data available on the Kashaya Pomo to form the basis for a dissertation addressing culture change in a Native American community in the early nineteenth century. This research was specifically designed by UC Berkeley graduate student and project director, Antoinette Martinez, to use multiple lines of evidence within telescoping scales of spatial and temporal analysis. Global, regional, local and household spatial patternings will be analyzed diachronically to examine different models of response and decision making by the Kashaya Pomo women, men, and families before, during, and after the presence of the Russian and native Alaskan hunters and traders in this mercantile colonial context. In particular, how did the native women act as cultural mediators in bridging the changing subsistence, sociopolitical, spatial and ideological chasms? Were they the innovators or keepers of tradition? How did these people adapt or transform the spaces of their daily practices and activities? Were there changes in the foodways or social relations among and within the households?

Theoretical and methodological issues of space and scale came into focus this summer as we carefully exposed the very floors, hearths, and trash deposits of people who had suddenly become part of a global system. The areas tested included small house pit depressions, stone tool and shell artifact manufacturing areas, an extensive midden, and the large depression of a semisubterranean structure.

Many people cooperated, collaborated and coexisted to make this a successful, fun, and very productive field season that ran from June 1 to July 22, 1995. California State Parks and Breck Parkman, as always, lent support and encouragement for this project which ran concurrently with the mitigation of the north wall of the Fort Ross stockade which Peter Mills directed. The Soper-Wheeler Company gave permission to work on the property and, like the Pedotti family who managed the property, we learned to treasure this land. There is no doubt that the blessing that Otis Parrish performed before testing contributed to the exciting results. Of course, UC Berkeley graduate and undergraduate students supplied energy, dedication, and insight. We also thank all the interested individuals from the Kashaya, local and academic communities who also contributed to the success.

Since the time a rancher made daily hikes to water his tomatoes and enjoy the view, the location of the Kashaya Pomo village has been called "Tomato Patch". It is safe to assume that those who came before him, the people whose past lies just beneath the surface, found this area productive and beautiful, too. In the clearing northeast of the year round spring a large depression, which is approximately 10 meters in diameter from berm to berm, becomes particularly well defined in the spring when the grass is green and clipped close to the ground by the resident cattle. Directly east of the large depression are several smaller depressions that line up comfortably along the contour of the slope. To the south of the large depression the slope makes a noticeable descent to the dark rich soils of the midden. Scattered between, and sometimes overlapping these other features, are areas dominated by obsidian and chert flakes and shatter.

The first archaeology excavation units to slice into the center of the large depression offered evidence of a relatively large structure that had burned down collapsing into itself and settling relatively undisturbed until we arrived. Because of the care taken by crew chief Allan Bramlette, and crew members Judy Stevenson, Hannah Ballard, Lisa Barrera, and Aimee Plourde we know that a substantial center post (approximately 16 cm in diameter) and almost a meter below the present surface held up a framework of posts, branches and twigs daubed with clay. After exposing more of the cultural levels in a large excavation block we found that some of the wood had been carbonized. Some of the branches and twigs left only impressions in the orange fire-hardened clay that also clung to an occasional bead, bone or shell. The dark, compact and greasy floor stands out in profile and ends abruptly at the berm whose construction and composition is not as easily well defined. Nearly 200 glass trade beads were recovered on and above the floor representing the dominant historical artifact at this site.

The three small depressions tested were all very different. The small depression farthest east from the large depression had been excavated in 1994. Extensive testing of this four meter feature reached depths of almost 70 cm below datum. Until we began subsurface testing we were not positive these small depressions were cultural. However, a burnt shell lens surrounded by fire cracked rock in the center at around 60 cm below datum assured us that they were. Moving slightly west, subsurface testing in the next depression revealed a larger concentration of burnt shell, as well as bone, associated with a relatively large amount of angular sandstone and cobbles. This faunal and charcoal lens was collected for flotation analysis. We divided

archaeology excavation
blocks into 50x50 cm units to facilitate the future replication of detailed spatial distributions. These provenienced "events" could then be used to give detail to regional and eventually global scenarios. Finally, the hearth (or oven?) in the small depression nearest the large depression was underlain by a pavement of close fitting rocks and appears to have been dug out of a previous living surface. Another possible post in this depression has been compromised by rodent disturbance. The association of schist fragments with this feature and the apparent cultural contexts of schist in other areas of the site raise many questions about the use of this material in Native American traditions.

The remains of numerous meals of chiton, mussel, barnacle, abalone, fish, bird, and mammal were mixed in with discarded stone tools, debitage, broken glass, and pieces of ceramic in the midden. The use of 1/8 inch screen for the entire excavation allowed for the recovery of fish vertebrae, rodent teeth, sea urchin spines, finishing flakes, as well as tiny beads. Several 20x20 cm columns from the midden, and all other archaeology excavation areas of the site, were bagged for future flotation and other soil tests. While we had hoped to expand the midden excavation horizontally, depths of over a meter kept us restricted to six 50x50 cm units. This was enough to keep crew chief Steve Silliman, and crew members Lori Reyes, Angela Scott, and Kathy Kawelu quite busy. Other graduate students who had the opportunity to get dirty and contribute to our data included Rob Schmidt and Robin Sewell.

The midden contrasts sharply with the areas almost devoid of organic remains but sprinkled with chert and obsidian bifaces, projectile points, flakes and shatter. We tested one of these areas to a depth of approximately 80 cm below surface and found a diverse range of lithic artifacts down to that depth. These contrasts were quite accurately predicted by results of remote sensing, including soil resistivity and magnetometer surveys, done in 1994 that showed the potential for discrete "activity areas". This was followed by the excavation of 60 STU's (shallow test units) consisting of 1x1 m units placed at the southwest corner of every 10x10 m section of the site grid. These STU's ranged from 4 to 8 cm in depth and comprise an important component of the database.

While the project spotlights a discrete time and space, the issues involved are relevant to all culture contact studies and significant for the following specific reasons:

* it is an example of Russian colonialism which can be compared with the more numerous studies of Spanish systems, especially in the United States and California;
* globally, it is in a geographical area that could be considered "peripheral" to the Russians, Spanish, and, in some ways, to the Native Americans;
* temporally, it is an area that would have seen drastic change in a short time period because of the limited Russian occupation;
* the Kashaya are documented in the ethnohistoric record and have one of the richest ethnographic records in North America;
* this research will also help promote the public image of native history and involvement within the State Parks system through the exchange of knowledge among the native, academic, and local communities;
* archaeological research in the area is limited and no previous excavations have been done on the ridge near Fort Ross;
* and last, but certainly not least, this project is particularly conducive to the study of gender in a culture contact situation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have 27 arrow heads, found in the Santa Rosa Mts,Riverside County and think they are from the Pomo tribe, how would I be able to find out for sure?

thank you