THE PREHISTORY OF OWENS VALLEY


PEOPLE HAVE LIVED IN THE OWENS VALLEY FOR MORE THAN 10,000 YEARS

Many things have changed in that time

-The great Ice Age animals have disappeared

-More than a dozen volcanic eruptions have rocked the area

-The first pinyon pine forests were established only 8000 years ago

-And with changes to the land - changes in the lives of its people


THE EARLIEST PEOPLE
10,000 - 5000 B.C.

Very little is known about the earliest inhabitants of the Owens Valley. Many of their sites are located near the shores of now dry lakes. But we don't know if all of these lakes were full of water when people camped there, or what attracted people to their shores. Maybe it was herds of mountain sheep and antelope that came to water, or flocks of ducks and other migratory birds. We know from the tools they left behind that these people wandered over vast areas. We can tell that they ate fewer seeds than later people because they used fewer grinding stones. But until we excavate more of these sites,a lot about the life of these ancient people will remain a mystery.


Great Basin
Concave Base/
Fluted Point

Great Basin Stemmed Series Points

5000 - 1250 B.C.

Little is known about life in this period. Few sites have been found, and many have no food remains. People still traveled over large areas, including the barren desert to the south and east. We know this by looking at the kinds of stone they used to make tools and where it came from. Many of the same foods were probably eaten as in earlier times, including more seeds that were ground into flour on flat milling stones.


Pinto/Little Lake Series Points


1250 B.C. - 600 A.D.

By studying what remains from this period, we know that life was very different from earlier times. People traveled the entire length of Owens Valley over the course of a year. Short trips were made to the mountains to hunt and gather, but most of the important foods in later times were hardly used. Pine nuts, freshwater mussels, and certain seeds were rarely eaten because they were hard to collect and prepare. As the number of people grew, pine nuts and other foods were added to the diet and people started to travel less.


Elko Series Points


LATE PREHISTORIC (600 - 1860 A.D.)

600 A.D. Introduction of the Bow and Arrow


Rose Spring Series Points

1300 A.D.


Desert Side-notched Points

Cottonwood Triangular Points


LATE PREHISTORIC LIFE

WINTER

Like most people who live close to the land, the Owens Valley Paiute structured their lives around the wild plants and animals they used as food. These were found in different places throughout the year, taking the people from the banks of the Owens River to the wind-swept mountains as the seasons changed.

Winters were usually spent in villages on the valley floor, where people lived in pole and brush winter houses.

Food came from stored seeds and nuts collected in the summer and fall. Ducks, rabbits, and other animals were hunted and time was spent visiting friends, telling stories, and making baskets and other equipment and tools.



SPRING

Early spring was often a hard time. Stored food was running low and the first of the new crops had yet to sprout. Some of the first edible plants were the tender shoots of wild onion, water-cress, and cat-tail. These were collected near winter villages until other food was available.

As melting snow filled the Owens River, fish and freshwater musselswere caught and eaten, and the seeds of many plants gathered and stored. Some of these food remains are preserved in archaeological sites and tell us what the people ate.


Artifacts such as grinding stones and arrowheads tell us where and how prehistoric people lived in the valley. The information these artifacts contain is priceless and that is why they are protected by State and Federal law.




SUMMER

When the grass began to dry, families often traveled by themselves to collect seeds. Others went high into the mountains to gather roots and to hunt mountain sheep, marmots, and rabbits.

Life in the mountains was difficult. The rugged high country was cold and had little firewood. Houses had to be warm. Their sturdy rock foundations can still be seen today.


FALL

As the days grew shorter and the rose hips turned red, people knew that the pinyon pine nuts were ripe. These were an important food,and families from all over the valley went to the mountains to gather nuts for the winter. Everyone helped. Children climbed into the trees to shake the loose nuts free, while their parents and grandparents picked the sticky green cones from higher branches with long hooked poles.

Pinyon Cones and Edible Nuts

If only a few weeks were spent in the mountains, people lived in simple brush shelters. If families decided to stay longer, they would build a sturdy house of logs.

Most families returned to the valley after the pinyon harvest. This was a happy time. The days were still warm, there was plenty to eat, and many friends to visit after the long summer. A festival was usually organized at Bishop, Big Pine, or another village. There were games, dances, news to share, and communal rabbit or antelope hunts. When the festival was over, people went home to their villages to prepare for winter, starting the cycle again.


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Site created by Reinhard Pribish
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