Prehistoric Native American Site Discovered Off the California Coast

Sophisticated stone tools date back thousands of years

Ranch House
A 19th-century ranch house was the last place National Park Service workers expected to find a cache of Native American tools. NPS

From human remains more than 13,000 years old to the earliest middens and fishhooks in North America, the Channel Islands National Park off the California coast are a treasure trove of information about early North American people. Recently, when national park workers recently began to restore a more recent piece of history on one of the islands, they uncovered a taste of something ancient: a prehistoric Native American site buried underneath the site of a ranch. 

National Parks Traveler reports the unexpected trove was discovered on Santa Rosa Island. Workers found the site when they began rehabilitating a 19th-century house on what used to be a cattle ranch on the island. When they lifted it up to build a new foundation, they found stone tools that would have been used by Native Americans to hunt and fish on the island thousands of years ago.

According to the Ventura County Star’s Cheri Carlson, the site's tools are representative of those made 8,000 to 13,000 years ago.

The Chumash, whose ancestors lived all over California’s coast and who relied on hunting, gathering and fishing for food, were the island’s original inhabitants.

When Spanish settlers reached the Channel Islands, disease wiped out many native inhabitants. Those who survived were forced to move to the mainland, where they lived in missions and were “loaned out to soldiers and settlers, any return for their labor going to the mission,” writes Campbell Grant in his book, Rock Paintings of the Chumash.

Carlson reports that Chumash representatives will rebury most of the artifacts, but will allow some pieces to be studied.

Will the newfound site disrupt the cultural preservation that was originally scheduled to take place on top of it? Not according to the National Park Service. “Our goal is to preserve both of these important and irreplaceable cultural resources,” Russell Galipeau, superintendent of the park, says in a press release.

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