Monday, March 4, 2013

Chumash Bedrock Mortars.

Have you ever been hiking in the SLP or the Santa Monicas and encountered a perfectly rounded hole in the sandstone that graces this region? Sure you have. You glanced at it and maybe the hole looked a little "too worn" around the edges when compared to the rest of the rock. Maybe you stopped and felt the smoothed texture of the little pot-in-the-rock. Perhaps you sat down and scooped out the pine needles and spider webs, imagined sitting here pounding on acorns and pine nuts. Maybe you just kept walking, in which case I'd not blame you. One hole looks a lot like another, but that hole was probably a Chumash bedrock mortar.

The portable edition. Inherited.
A small Chumash woven basket, inherited from my grandfather.
These mortars can be found all over our range and are more likely to be spotted near old campsites near water. With a bit of experience and an empathic understanding of the kinds of places that would appeal to a hunter/gatherer culture, one can find these simple pots pretty easily. Bedrock mortars come in all sizes and depths, some can be quite large and some can be quite small. The smaller ones were likely used for medicines and paints while the larger ones were oriented to the preparation of food. Prepared food was stored in woven baskets, which were far less durable than the mortars but much more portable. Speaking of portability, some mortars were made to be brought along, as seen above.

Check out how small some of these are. That's a 6" ruler.
For a brief but interesting synopsis of Chumash life in parts of Ventura County, I found The Chumash and How They Lived by Mike Khun to be crammed with good information. For a more comprehensive  brochure of all things Chumash, Wikipedia has a great page.

The Carrizo Plain.
Twin Forks.
Reyes Peak.
Pine Mountain.
Haddock Peak.
Link: Native American Art, My Perspective


  1. Nice collection of discovered mortars. It's always exciting to find ones I previously didn't know of when I'm out hiking. Like you, I like to sit there and think about what the area must've been like back then when the mortar was being used.

    Some of the smaller, shallower dimple-like ones, usually found around rock art sites are cupules. Supposedly these have some sort of significance in fertility rites making them almost more art (petroglyph?) than tool like the larger mortars.

  2. Fertility rituals...huh. Eye of newt, toe of frog.... -DS