Archaeological Survey by Rebecca Loveland Anastasio


copyrighted January 29, 1993 by Rebecca Anastasio

Cayucos is an archaeologically sensitive area of the Central Coast. The shoreline of Estero Bay, the mountains of the Santa Lucia Range, and various creeks and streams between the two have long been rich sources of food and raw materials for the Chumash and Salinan Indians and their ancestors, making the Cayucos area particularly suitable for habitation. Native Americans have occupied the Central Coast for at least 9000 years (Morrato 1984). Sites of this age have been found in Cambria, at Diablo Canyon, and in Pismo Beach (Greenwood 1972); Dills, personal communication 11/15/88; Singer 1992. An archaeological site record search performed by Matthew Syrett of the Central Coast Information Center of the California Archaeological Inventory revealed that five possible prehistoric sites have been previously recorded...

CA-SLO-154 is a very large site located along Old Creek west of Highway 1...This site has been characterized as a large habitation site (covering several acres) featuring black, greasy midden soils to a depth of two to three feet. Other archaeological materials observed include clam, red abalone, olive shell, red abalone, mussel, various limpets, chitons, snails, and barnacles. Artifacts observed on the site include chert projectile points and acorn anvils. This site was partially destroyed by construction of the spillway from Whale Rock Reservoir (Riddell 1960a,b).

...Although often considered a homogeneous tribal affiliation, "Chumash" actually refers to a language family, part of the larger Hokan language stock spoken by other Central California Indian groups such as the Karok, Shasta, Washo, Pomo, and Yuman as well as the neighboring Salinan (Shipley 1978;81-82),84; Kroeber 1925:544). Chumash refers specifically to a language family with at least six separate languages and possibly more (Grant 1978:505). The Chumash language territory stretched from Estero Bay to Malibu Canyon along the coast, and may have extended as much as sixty miles inland. Obispeno constitutes the northernmost extension of the the Chumash language, and was quite different from the language of the neighboring Purisimeno to the south, and the Salinan to the north (Greenwood 1978:520).

The number of Chumash Indians who occupied the Central Coast prior to the Spanish contact is subject to some dispute. Estimates range from 8000 individuals to as many as 22000 (Grant 1978:506). However based on accounts by Spanish explorers, it appears that the highest concentration of this population was along the Santa Barbara Channel and on the Channel Islands. Withing the Obispeno area, none of the explorers mention the very large populous villages notes along the channel. In contrast, they describe very small towns with few houses, and small groups of nomadic Chumash (Greenwood 1978:520). These observations are in contrast to the prehistoric archaeological record of villages with many house floors, suggesting that the northern Chumash population was already declining or dispersing prior to the mission period. Population densities in the Obispeno area during the contact period are estimated at 24-25 people per 100 square kilometers. Interestingly, although village sites were apparently small, they were numerous. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolsa lists 142 rancherias, as contrasted to 93 for Mission Santa Barbara 9Greenwood 1978:521). The closest clearly identified ethnographic village was that of Chotcaqua at the south end of Estero Bay (Gibson 1990:3,Map 3).

Based on historical accounts and archaeological evidence, the Obispeno Chumash had a hunting and gathering economy based primarily on the exploitation of tide pools and shallow water using traps, poles, nets, and hook and line. Although tule balsas have been noted, the planked canoe characteristic of the Santa Barbara Channel was not introduced into the Obispeno area until the historic period (sic). Hunting is suggested by the presence of projectile points. Plant and animal foods were processed using stone manos with stone metates or wooden grinding trought as will as stone mortars. Hand sized cobbles with small pits may have been used to crack mollusks or acorns. The Chumash were also active traders: steatite from Catalina Island, deerskins, acorns, and grasshoppers from the Salinan; pottery and obsidian from the Yokut; in turn the Chumash supplied asphaltum, sea shells, dried fish, and sea otter furs (Greenwood 1978:521-523).

The Chumash aboriginal lifeway was completely disrupted by the coming of the Spanish. As Chumash converts were brought into the mission system, they were transformed from semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers into agricultural laborers who lived at the missions. In addition, the population was also being decimated by new diseases and a declining birth rate. By the early 1800s, almost the entire Chumash population (with the exception of those who fled inland) had been brought into the mission system, (Grant 1978:505; Greenwood 1978:521). Later, due to the secularization of the missions by Mexico in 1834, most of the aboriginal population either migrated to the interior or gradually moved to ranchos to work as manual laborers (Grant 1978:507)....

Cayucos Gold

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