Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

3. Man Arrives

If anyone suggested, even as recently as 1971, that human beings were trooping around the Santa Clara prior to AD 500, they would have been stoned in the scholarly streets.

But the year 1971 was a turning point in dating the antiquity of man in the Americas. A skull that had reposed in a basement at the University of Southern California since 1936 was given a new test that measures amino acids in bone protein. The result turned the anthropological community upside-down. "Los Angeles Man," as he was henceforth known, was found to be 25,600 years old.

Radiocarbon dating of a site on Santa Rosa Island indicated that someone was dining on mammoth steaks there forty-seven thousand years ago. Artifacts found at the Calico site near Barstow are at least fifty thousand years old. Intriguingly, the most direct route between these two sites is right down the Santa Clara River Valley.

While no hard evidence of early man, such as a datable skeleton or charcoal from a fire pit, has yet turned up in the Santa Clarita Valley, stone choppers, scrapers and projectile points have been found, some dating back as far as 18,000 years. One of the earliest camp sites is at Agua Dulce Springs, where big game hunters rested between expeditions in search of ground sloths, mastodons, camels and monstrous bison with horns a yard wide.

Gradually, the great beasts of the Pleistocene, or Ice Age, died out, whether from a changing climate or the increased efficiency of human predators. About 6000 BC, Santa Claritans switched over to hunting smaller game such as deer and rabbits and began to supplement their diet with acorns and seeds. This is known as the Early Period or Millingstone Horizon, and it lasted until 1800 BC. In other words, the people were beginning to settle down, changing from a completely nomadic life of chasing herds around the countryside to semi-permanent villages that would be moved only when the immediate resources were completely exploited, or with changing seasons.

During the summer of 1983 an extensive Indian village was investigated by the Northridge Archaeological Institute at Oak Flat Campground in the Angeles National Forest. Under the shade of great trees, these early Americans — called the Castaic Chumash — made their homes about 3000 BC. Some were buried under a pile of rocks with a metate (grinding bowl) over their faces. Others were cremated, their ashes lovingly placed in large stone bowls.

Unlike the old days, when everything would have been exhumed and carted off to a museum, these ancient burials were not touched. Out of the recently-developed deference to the intense religious feelings of modern Native Americans, the graves were plotted, photographed, then re-covered with earth. Indian monitors make sure that everything is done according to tradition. So the chiefs, warriors, women and children of antiquity still sleep beneath the hoary oaks, as they always have and always will.

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