For time untold, indigenous people have lived around Pinnacles, honoring this unique place and making use of its resources. This was a place where indigenous people harvested useful plant and animal resources, but no archaeological evidence has been found to suggest a village existed within park boundaries. Although there has not been a comprehensive archaeological study in the park, some sites have been known and recorded, but in order to protect the sensitive nature of these sites they have not been included on maps. A bedrock mortar might be an obvious cultural resource, the oak trees that produced the acorn and the water from the creek that mixed with the flour to make porridge are all important cultural resources too. The entire landscape is a a cultural resource from the indigenous perspective.
Pinnacles National Park continues to learn about the history of Native peoples, but many archaeological records are incomplete. There was no written record prior to European colonization as most stories and knowledge were passed from generation to generation in an oral tradition. Unfortunately, this transfer of knowledge was disrupted by the arrival of the Spanish in 1769 and the introduction of the mission system which prohibited people from speaking their Native language or engaging in their cultural practices. During the process of colonization that continued with Mexicans and then early Americans, it was safer to hide one's native identity and pretend to be Spanish. Some people retained knowledge from the time before the mission and many Californian Indian people are working today to 'relearn' as much of their traditional ecological knowledge as they can.
The park works hard to ensure a positive and productive relationship with tribal groups. Members of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and Chalon Indian Nation volunteer, work, and participate in eco-cultural restoration projects at Pinnacles. The ancestors of these people managed the land and its resources through sophisticated, non-agricultural practices that included weeding, pruning, sowing seeds, and selective harvesting. One of the most effective tools of indigenous landscape managers was fire. Fires were intentionally set at carefully chosen times and places to keep woody vegetation from encroaching on grasslands and to stimulate growth of many culturally significant plants. Tribal members work with Pinnacles to reintroduce indigenous management techniques to restore native plants. We can learn a lot from traditional ecological knowledge that has been passed on from generation to generation about how to care for this special place.
There are ample plant and animal resources within Pinnacles that would have provided food, medicine, and materials throughout the year. In the spring people may have been in Pinnacles rebuilding temporary brush huts and gathering leafy parts of plants, grass and wildflower seeds and plant bulbs for food. They may have used Pinnacles as a gathering site for prized basket weaving materials such as the strong roots from the Santa Barbara sedge (Carex barbarae) or flower stalks from deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens). In the fall people gathered acorns from the oak trees and pine nuts from the gray pine (Pinus sabiniana).
Acorns were a major food source for the Chalon, Mutsun and many other California Indian tribes. Acorns were gathered in baskets and dried in the sun, then some were ground into meal and the rest stored in granaries. Wildflower seeds, like those that come from chia (Salvia columbariae), and red maids (Calandrinia ciliata) were gathered in great quantities and some seeds were replanted to ensure future harvests. Rabbits were hunted for food and the skins were cut into strips and woven into blankets and capes. Deer, elk, antelope, and possibly fish from the Salinas Valley were also major food sources.
Condors have a significant role in Amah Mutsun mythology, it was the condor (or wasaka in Mutsun) who escorted the spirits of deceased relatives to the next world across the sea. A condor ceremony was traditionally held approximately every two years to honor and communicate with the dead. The Amah Mutsun conducted a ceremony in 2011 to celebrate the return of the condor to Pinnacles and work towards the conservation and recovery of all threatened and endangered species.
Pinnacles National Park worked with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band to gather this information, to learn more visit amahmutsun.org.
Last updated: September 19, 2020