Leon Worden

Ancient SCV Women Did All the Work
By Leon Worden
Wednesday, June 14, 1995

Part 2 of 2.

y the time Don Gaspar de Portola and his party of missionary scouts reached Castaic Junction in August of 1769, another people had inhabited the Santa Clarita Valley for 1300 years.
    They were the Tataviam, or "Dwellers of Sunny Slopes," a small offshoot of the powerful Shoshone Indians.
    We once called them "Aliklik," but over the last couple of decades our historians determined that "Aliklik" was a pejorative term associated with the clicking sound of their language, and that "Tataviam" was more accurate.
    The Tataviam lived in brush huts and migrated from hill to valley as the seasons changed. Like all California Indians, they were hunters and gatherers — though the women and children did a lot more gathering than the men did hunting.
    At least, that was the conclusion of Dr. David Whitley of the UCLA Institute of Archaeology, formerly with the state Historical Resources Commission. Whitley and another archaeologist, Joe Simon, were hired by the Newhall Ranch Company to determine the significance of any historic and prehistoric artifacts they might find between Interstate 5 and the Ventura County line, where the Newhall Land subsidiary plans to build a new town.
    Whitley discussed his findings at a public meeting earlier this month.
    What surprised Whitley most was the scarcity of prehistoric sites in the project area. Though they scoured the 19 square mile region, the archaeologists found only eight indications of prehistoric habitation — far fewer than expected.
    Two of the eight sites were not intact. A third and fourth contained a scattering of surface deposits, with nothing below. A fifth was a cave, looted before the turn of the century.
    The three final sites were significant winter encampments. Each provided shelter for 20 to 30 people, 800 to 3500 years ago.
    "We didn't expect this in a million years," Whitley said. "On 12,000 acres, we found just three camp sites. It's the lowest population this side of the Mojave Desert."
    Whitley said it was "scientifically interesting" that the area was not occupied until 3500 years ago. Prior to that time, the western U.S. was extremely hot and dry. People migrated west when the climate got wetter.
    Equally interesting, the Newhall Ranch sites were abandoned around AD 1200, when a long period of drought again swept the West. "There still were Native Americans in the area," Whitley said, "but not on the Newhall Ranch."
    This may explain why the earliest known area map (1843) refers to the mountainous region as lomas esterilas, or "sterile hills."
    An aside: As a youngster in 1970, I joined my parents on a UCLA dig beneath what is now Castaic Lake. Several miles from the area Whitley investigated, I unearthed many mortars and pestles; rare spear points; stone beads that are now on display at Saugus Station; and a curious, perfectly round disk that nobody could explain. Most of this treasure trove wound up in a box in the deep, dark recesses of Cal State Northridge, just like in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
    Dr. Whitley could not show slides of his Newhall Ranch findings to his audience. Our government doesn't want scavengers and vandals to know where to dig. Archaeological discoveries are exempt from the federal Freedom of Information Act for this reason.
    In general terms, Whitley discussed what the artifacts reveal.
    The Tataviam arrived about AD 500. We don't know who lived here earlier. Women and children gathered plant food — sage, wild seeds, agave (century plant) and ground acorn meal — which comprised 80 to 90 percent of the Tataviam diet.
    Shell beads would indicate trade routes to the coast. While some have been found elsewhere locally, from later periods, none was found at Newhall Ranch. The absence of shell beads suggests an ethnic boundary between the Tataviam and their Chumash neighbors to the west.
    The presence of obsidian arrow heads and soapstone, however, evidences trade routes through Agua Dulce to the east.
    When the Spaniards arrived in the late 1700s, the entire Tataviam tribe numbered just 1,000, Whitley said.
    According to local historian Jerry Reynolds, the last speaker of the Tataviam language was a fellow named Juan Jose Fustero, who died in 1916.* Few Tataviam words remain. Kashtuk (Castaic), Piiouku (Piru) and Islay (Hasley, as in Canyon) are notable exceptions.

    The writer thanks Ruth Newhall, Jerry Reynolds and others for their advice on this series.

    AUTHOR'S NOTE: Fustero died June 30, 1921. (New information, acquired in July 1998.)
Go to Part 1
Go to an update on prehistoric inhabitants of Newhall Ranch

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