Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Bowers Cave Materials

Tataviam Culture


Signal newspaper publisher Tony Newhall visited the Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in 1984 to learn more about its collection of Bowers Cave artifacts. In subsequent correspondence (below), the museum sent him four photographs depicting nine of the artifacts, including what may be the only known photograph showing all four perforated stones and sticks together. We must acknowledge the possibility that the photograph is a composite, considering it has been touched up; even if so, it is a rarity to see No. 39263 (the one on the left), which the Peabody traded in 1952 to the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. (Traded for what, we don't know.) The only other known depiction is a sketch by Henshaw in 1887.

One of the most important troves of Native Californian cultural materials — and certainly the most extensive and significant cache of Tataviam Indian materials — was discovered in a cave in 1884 by a pair of teenagers on a ranch near present-day Val Verde. The cave is located high up a steep hillside on what is now the northwestern edge of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill property. The cave has been thoroughly excavated over the years; no cultural materials are believed to remain there.

The teenagers, McCoy and Everett Pyle, sold their bounty for $1,500 to Stephen Bowers, a Methodist minister and de-facto archaeologist who was living in Santa Barbara and collecting for the Peabody at the time. Hence the appellation. From the Peabody's accession numbers, we know the museum received the "Bowers Cave" materials on October 23, 1886.

For Bowers, it was one more shipment in a long line of shipments from California to museums on the East Coast. And he wasn't alone.

As the democratic revolutions swept over Europe in 1848, kings' cabinets began to give way to public museums. (Visited by the aristocracy, but "public" nonetheless.) It became a matter of national pride to assemble large collections of interesting materials. Southern California had attracted crown collectors from Spain since the late 1700s, but now, free from Spanish and Mexican rule and far removed from its new national capital, California was wide open. Several nations sent collectors to prowl around for the vestiges of "Early Man." They exhumed Native American graves throughout California (especially Southern California), removed their human remains and funerary items, and shipped them home to Europe. Not to be outdone, the United States Department of the Interior hired Stephen Bowers to do the same for the Smithsonian Institution beginning in 1877.

"Thus began the international race to see which team could obtain the choicest artifacts for the glory of their respective nations. Within six months nearly every known Chumash burial ground had been opened and the contents removed to museums on the East Coast and in Europe," writes Arlene Benson in "The Noontide Sun: The Field Journals of the Reverend Stephen Bowers, Pioneer California Archaeologist" (Menlo Park: Ballena Press 1997). It was typical for "collectors" such as Bowers to ship human skulls back East and leave the balance of the skeletons behind.

Such hasty "collecting" lent itself to shoddy recordkeeping. Where, exactly, did the human remains come from? Whose ancestors were they? According to research published in 2017, two decades after the passage of 1990's Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, only 27 percent of the Native American skeletal remains in 650 museums and federal repositories were culturally identifiable, "leaving 115,000 sets of remains in a kind of legal purgatory," writes Chip Colwell, senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (2017: "Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America's Culture," University of Chicago Press, pg. 200).

Bowers evidently thought Native American cultural materials should remain in the United States (Benson, ibid., pg. 11). And yet, just as with the perforated stone and stick from his namesake cave in the Santa Clarita Valley that ended up in Australia, many of his finds were located by Blackburn and Hudson (1990: "Time's Flotsam: Overseas Collections of California Indian Material Culture") at museums in Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. "Most appear to have been traded by such institutions as the Smithsonian, the Peabody Museum and the Heye Foundation," while others were purchased from Bowers' family after his death and donated to overseas museums (Benson, ibid.).

The following identifications correspond with the photographs above and come from Peabody records:

Photo 1, from left to right:
86-23-10/39293 — not described. (In Australia.)
86-23-10/39261 — Club, perforated stone on wooden handle, red paint, resin. All found in one basket. Overall: 50 x 11 x 11.3 cm (19 11/16 x 4 5/16 x 4 7/16 in.) Other (Diameter of stone): 11.5 cm (4 1/2 in.) Other (Thickness of stone): 4.7 cm (1 7/8 in.) Overall (Diameter of stick): 1.6 cm (5/8 in.)
(NOTE: These are not thought to be "clubs" or weapons. Blackburn and Hudson, 1990, believe they had a ceremonial use, just like many of the other materials found in the cave. Even Bowers believed they "were doubtless used in ... religious ceremonies, as they were accompanied by a large number of bone flutes or whistles" [Benson, ibid., pg. 32]).
86-23-10/39262 — Club, perforated stone top (stone uneven), wooden handle, gum adhesive. Found in same basket. Overall: 45.5 x 9.5 cm (17 15/16 x 3 3/4 in.) Other (Diameter of stone): 9.7 cm (3 13/16 in.) Other (Thickness of stone): 5.1 cm (2 in.) Overall (Diameter of stick): 1.5 cm (9/16 in.)
86-23-10/39264 — Club, perforated stone top, wooden handle, gum adhesive. Overall: 47 x 12.5 cm (18 1/2 x 4 15/16 in.) Overall (Diameter of stone): 12.4 cm (4 7/8 in.) Other (Thickness of stone): 3.6 cm (1 7/16 in.) Other (Diameter of stick): 1.7 cm (11/16 in.)
Photo 2:
86-23-10/39264 — (on the left) see above.
86-23-10/39262 — (on the right) see above.
Photo 3:
86-23-10/39251 — (one of seven) head bands or head-dresses, or banners. black, white and gray clipped feathers, quills strung together. 3 to 5 ft. in length; made by sewing the shafts of feathers together. Like the headdresses shown in Figs. 30 & 31 in Powers' [cq] "Tribes of California". These were all found in one of the large baskets. Worn in ceremonies. Overall: 27.5 x 10.5 x 6.5 cm (10 13/16 x 4 1/8 x 2 9/16 in.)
Photo 4:
86-23-10/39259 — (top) One of 45 bone whistles. Worked bone, some perforated shaft, bark [actually juncus] wrapped center, resin coat. Made of deer tibia. "Stop" made of asphatum. Decorated with abalone shell. All found in one basket. Overall: 26 x 5.5 x 1.3 cm (10 1/4 x 2 3/16 x 1/2 in.)
86-23-10/39259.1 — (bottom) One of 45 bone whistles. Perforated leg bone, wrapped with fiber and resin, inlay abalone shell. Made of deer tibia. "Stop" made of asphaltum. Decorated with abalone shell. All found in one basket. Overall: 25.2 x 5.5 x 3.2 cm (9 15/16 x 2 3/16 x 1 1/4 in.)
86-23-10/39267 — (center-left): Tool made of antler, with asphaltum over cordage. May have been a wedge. Scraper, antler worked to edge, braided fiber cord covered with resin at top. Overall: 11.4 x 4.6 x 2.6 cm (4 1/2 x 1 13/16 x 1 in.)
86-23-10/39274 — Abalone shell bowl or dipper. Holes along edge are filled with buckskin. Ladle, modified shell, numerous perforations one side with leather thong. Overall: 11.3 x 8.6 x 3.6 cm (4 7/16 x 3 3/8 x 1 7/16 in.)

TN8402: Download original images here; download correspondence here.
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