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Coso Rock Art | setting the scene / the landscape / the people / rock art
setting the scene The people

No one really knows how or when people first came to Coso. Archeologists believe people came across the Bering Straight during the last ice age. Coso's Paiute Indians say they emerged from the very mud of the Coso Hot Springs. In a manner of speaking, they may both be right. The earliest Americans were likely related to ancient peoples of western Asia. On the other hand, the basic factors that make the Coso Indians who they are—their language, beliefs, arts, technologies, and practices—formed partly in response to the demands of the unforgiving Coso landscape.

Little is known about Coso's first inhabitants. When they came here is not entirely clear, but tests show that some of Coso's rock art is at least 12,000 years old. While archeologists remain skeptical that these ancient artists were directly related to contemporary Indians, the particular set of symbols and styles at Coso suggests a very long-lived and continuous cultural connection.

Coso's paleoindians were few in number and moved constantly across what was then a lush landscape in search of large game animals. Over time, their population increased slightly, though never much beyond a small number of family bands. With the decline in large game animals, people began to rely less exclusively on hunting and gathered more plant foods. more >>

 

(photo) Numic family sits in traditional brush windbreak.  © The Denver Public Library.

FAMILY LIFE

Family was the central institution of Numic culture. This young family, resting in a traditional frame-and-branch windbreak, was probably nearly self-sufficient. They traveled lightly, carrying little more than baskets, tools, and rabbit-fur cloaks. Because they ranged over long distances in small groups, Numics rarely developed social hierarchies beyond the extended family.

(photo) Old woman teaching young girl to weave baskets.  By Library of Congress.

ELDERS

Old people were especially valued by Numics. They possessed extensive practical knowledge and social wisdom, and anchored village life. Grandparents often functioned as primary caregivers and educators for small children while parents and older siblings made seasonal working expeditions.

Numic people put such great value on their elders that they sometimes carried them for hundreds of miles to be cured of illness—and occasionally buried—at the Coso Hot Springs.

(photo) Boys practicing with bow and arrows.  © The Bancroft Library. (photo) Girls with woven water jugs.  © The Denver Public Library.

WORKING LIFE

Shoshonean (or Numic) people held a distinct division between women's and men's work. Here, boys practice shooting game while girls demonstrate the use of mud-sealed, woven basket water jugs.

Men's work included hunting, trading, and tool making. Much of the plant-related, processing-intensive work was done by women.

(photo) Woman with baskets displayed under a tree.  © The Bancroft Library.

THE BASKET MAKERS

Shoshonean women are famous for their beautiful baskets. In the past, a variety of baskets were made for collecting, processing, and storing food. They were even worn as hats against the fierce desert sun. Weaving techniques were also used for fish traps and other useful items. Originally a technology of supreme importance, Shoshone baskets later became highly desired collectables. Decoration was a way of enhancing and honoring the basket's spiritual attributes, an aesthetic applied to all manufactured items.

(photo) Women sorting pinyon nuts.  © The Bancroft Library.

INTERGROUP RELATIONS

For Coso Indians, the pinyon-pine nut harvest was a busy, but joyful, time of the year. Families and friends gathered from all over the area to work and play together, sharing the burden of collecting and processing this important food source. Since people rarely had time to meet in large groups, the pine nut festival was an opportunity to visit and exchange news. Women used the time to negotiate the elaborate intricacies of arranging marriages.

Men from neighboring groups traded, settled disputes, decided issues of justice, and made plans for large-scaled, organized hunts. In lean years, such councils often cleared the way to share territory for harvesting and hunts.

MJB