«By Celeste Nicole Henrickson A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in ...»
Cultural Setting-The Guaycura Peoples Jesuit Missionary accounts during the late 17th century report that the Guaycura peoples inhabited a belt of land in south-central Baja California. Little is known archaeologically or otherwise about their antecedents. For an as yet undetermined amount of time, the Guaycura were “sandwiched” between at least two (Cochimí and Pericú), possibly three (Uchiti), cultural and/or linguistic groups (Figure 1). In the central peninsula, groups were loosely organized into bands of 50-200 individuals composed of families averaging 5 people (Ritter 1979; Aschmann 1959). The Guaycura had considerable within-group diversity as evidenced by numerous dialects and endemic warfare (Baegert 1952: 150-156; Taraval 1931; Aviles and Hoover 1997). In 1949 Massey published a detailed map of southern Baja dialects and languages (Figure 1) based on mission and explorer documents. Although Massey (1961) states there is no clear way to delineate the linguistic arrangement of the southern Peninsula, he combines the Guaycura, Huchiti, and Pericú as part of a larger Guaycurian-speaking Family. 1 He contrasts the Yuman tribal groups with Guaycurian, arguing that due to cultural and geographical isolation, the groups below Loreto had more in common with each other, including language, sociopolitical organization, and “simplistic” material traits than they did with those to the north.
Aviles and Hooper (1997) suggest that the richer environments of the Sierra de la Giganta facilitated larger social groups, loosely controlled by headmen, rather than the more mobile Cochimí groups to the north with smaller populations and a drier, sparser environment. In direct contrast, Massey (1949:304) described the Guaycura region as waterless and marginal, especially compared to the fishing and gathering economy of the Cape region. He considered their location defensive. Regardless of where or how many language and dialect boundaries are drawn, there are clearly a variety cultural interfaces occurring during the colonial period. These disparities in opinion highlight the fact that the extent to which a region or people are marginal or isolated is an 1 Note that Guaycura and Callejue are two dialects of the Guaycura language and the Guaycura language is one of three Guaycurian languages. In other words Guaycura is a dialect, a language, and the plural form of Guaycura is a family. The terminology is repetitive.
academic matter that requires empirical testing and, undoubtedly, a reconfiguration of perceptions on marginality. An important first step towards positioning Baja California within a wider North American prehistory is to understand the relationships between peninsular groups with respect to themselves and to their neighbors. It is only recently that knowledge of Baja California prehistory is beginning to accumulate so that sites in relative close proximity along the length and width of the peninsula can be examined and compared. The well-preserved artifacts within shelters in the peninsular range are an opportunity to combine multiple classes of artifacts to refine our understanding of interactions between and within groups.
Missionary accounts and archaeological data suggest considerable cultural heterogeneity between immediate groups within Baja California Sur (Laylander 2000).
Relative to other regions in North America, sociocultural interactions among historic, indigenous groups from Baja California Sur are not well understood despite the presence of a variety of ethnohistorical accounts of the region dated from the 16th century onward. Several factors contribute to this situation, including: 1) the absence of widespread, well-dated archaeological sites; 2) disagreement between ethnohistoric accounts on the number of linguistic groups present and their associated territories (e.g., Barco 1981; Massey 1949); and 3) ethnohistoric accounts that confound linguistic with group affiliation (Massey 1949). Also, like many regions in North America, it is difficult to articulate prehistoric sites with historic indigenous populations. These problems have been compounded by the effects of disease vectors (Aschmann 1967;
Cook 1937), forced missionary relocation programs (Jackson 1983, 1984), and the possibility of historical demographic shifts and geographic displacement of indigenous populations due to indigenous agency (Mathes 1975) [although the latter has been placed into question (c.f. Laylander 1997:16)]. A final confound to interpreting relationships between historic BCS indigenous populations is related to whether one examines their linguistic or material culture attributes.
Physical Setting The Cueva Santa Rita archaeological site is located in the southern Sierra de la Giganta (Figure 1). The site is located in a narrow canyon above a first-order stream bed that feeds into the ephemeral Arroyo La Presa, also known as Arroyo Santa Rita, just to the west of the peninsular divide. The western slopes of the Sierra de la Giganta formed during the westward migration of a volcanic arc that produced at least three facies, collectively named the Comondú Group (Umhoefer et al. 2001). The narrow eastern escarpment is an impressive large-scale tectonic transition between the Peninsular Ranges and the Gulf Extensional Province, the bulk of the latter located under the Gulf of California waters. Cueva Santa Rita is located not far to the west of this boundary within the boulders and breccias of the Comondú Group. The topographic disruption of the southern Main Gulf Escarpment created a weak link in communication for the Jesuit missionaries between La Paz and Loreto, playing an important role in the Pericú and Guaycura uprising that began in 1734. The landscape feature continues to prohibit transportation today, diverting northbound traffic to the western side of the peninsula. Fortunately for anthropologists, this region continues to be relatively isolated, maintaining a rich population of ranchero peoples, many of whom are direct descendants of Spanish men that stayed after the Jesuit expulsion of 1767 A.D. (Macfarlan 2012).
South-central Baja California can be divided into several ecoregions (Figure 1).
On the Pacific side is the Magdalena Lagoon Complex at Bahía de la Magdalena, an 5 extremely diverse and productive biological zone located at the transition between temperate and tropical regions (Bizzarro 2008). It is the largest coastal wetland in the peninsula (Zárate-Ovando 2006). To the east, the Magdalena Plains slope gently toward the Sierra de la Giganta, also known as the “Giganta corridor”. Although often lumped with either the Sonoran Desert or Cape Region fauna, the Sierra de la Giganta is potentially its own separate ecoregion; a compositional mix of the lowland Cape Region, desert mountains of the central peninsula, and Sonoran desertscrub of mainland Mexico (Léon de la Luz et al. 2008). Additionally, the rockshelter has a relatively high number of distinct plant communites within 30 km or less including vernal pools, mangrove swamps, an ephemeral lake, freshwater marsh, and oases. On the eastern side of the Giganta an abrupt drop in elevation leads to a narrow and erratic strip of land stretching from La Paz to Bahía de Los Angeles, part of the Sarcocaulescent Desert, which incorporates the numerous gulf islands between these latitudes (Wiggins 1980).
Environmental Change at CSR Although no local Holocene climate research has been done in the Sierra de la Giganta, some research has been done in the Cape Region and at Bahía Magdalena. So far, climatic trends in Baja California Sur are similar to those found in the western Mexico coastal plains (Sirkin 1985). At the onset of human occupation at CSR, important largescale paleoclimatic shifts are indicated in pollen cores from Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Sirkin et al. (2004) analyzed pollen core samples from mangroves, lagoons, and upland wetlands and found that they have several things in common. They suggest a warm, dry trend lasted from 7,000 until between 3,000 to 4,000 years ago followed by a shift to wetter, subtropical conditions. Furthermore, the last 2,000 years have been more dynamic than the early and middle Holocene, with more frequent fluctuations between cooling and warming. Currently, Baja California is in a cooler period that began approximately 1,000 years ago. On the opposite coast from CSR, studies of dune fields in the Magdalenian Bay have several implications for human prehistory (Murillo de Nava and Gorsline 2000; Murillo de Nava et al. 1999). Large dune emplacements appear to indicate especially dry periods (14,000-8,000 BP), although dunes have been active throughout the Holocene. The Magdalena Lagoon Complex was fully developed around 5-6K yr ago, after sea-level stabilized. Although they were used to date dune events, radiocarbon dates on prehistoric shell middens suggest that people occupied the coast during maximum sea-level, before sea-level stabilization.
Rockshelters of the Central Peninsula Geographically, Cueva Santa Rita is located in the southernmost extent of the central peninsula. Everything south of the Sierra de la Giganta is considered the southern region of the peninsula. Prehistoric rockshelter sites closest to Cueva Santa Rita are found near the town of Comondú in the northern Sierra de la Giganta. This region is geologically similar, but environmentally and, at the time of contact, linguistically different from the Cueva Santa Rita region. In addition, despite being part of the same mountain range, this northern Comondú region is included in the limits of the Central Desert and in the southern California Yuman linguistic groups (Massey 1949; Ritter 1979). William Massey began test excavations here in 1949 and returned in 1953 and 1954 to excavate 4 rockshelters. The detailed reports of these four sites are presented in Tuohy’s 1979 dissertation. Together, the work of Tuohy and Massey defined what is referred to as the Comondú Complex of central Baja California, named 6 after the town of Comondú, a logistical gateway for travel to rockshelters during fieldwork. The Comondú culture is defined primarily by a shared set of artifact traits.
This includes a preference for square knot netting; the use overhand knots in joining cords, tying the ends of cords and in sandals; non-interlocking stitch coiled basketry;
and stone pipes (Hyland 1997; Tuohy 1979). Tuohy’s dissertation is primarily a detailed description of artifacts recovered, which is fortuitous since all collections housed outside of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum at the University of California, Berkeley are missing. Unfortunately, this means the majority of the collection is likely gone. A significant portion of his dissertation also critically reviews peninsular models of population dynamics.
The Sierra de la Giganta are part of a geologic segment of a larger spine of mountain that run the length of the peninsula. To the north is the Sierra de San Francisco and above that is the Sierra San Borja. Clement Meighan (1966) first published on the cave paintings and artifacts found in the narrow canyons of the Sierra San Borja, near Santa Rosalia. The indigenous in this central region are known as the Cochimí. In this region, the latest Holocene artifacts are typical of the Comondú culture defined by Massey (1947). Meighan attributes the cave paintings of this region to the Comondú people, although this wasn’t scientifically tested for another 30 years (see Hyland 1997). The significance Meighan’s work lies in that it identified an impressive regional rock art style that was unlike anything in North or South America.
A bit farther south, yet still north of Cueva Santa Rita, the rockshelters in the Sierra de San Francisco’s are best known for their rock art style most notable for their large scale and high placement, indicating a large labor investment. Justin Hyland’s dissertation study in 1997 discussed the position of mural sites and settlement patterns at a regional scale. The lack of fresh water and shell middens on the Pacific coast and at inland sites in general led Hyland to suggest that a single population of people lived in the mountains with short-term occupation along the Pacific coast. The high number of milling tools from coast to coast indicates additional short-term logistical camps.
Artifacts recovered from shelters under the Great Murals are diagnostic of the late prehistoric Comondú culture and include an abundance of late-summer/early-fall floral species, lending more credibility to ethnohistoric accounts of ceremonial activities, including painting, during these seasons. The distribution of 81 radiocarbon dates peak around 1300 BP and again between 1600 and 1700 A.D. One of the earliest dates came from cordage at 6999±60 and 86% of the dates postdate 1800 BP. North of the Sierra de la Giganta, much of the rockshelter research in central Baja California has a strong focus on rock art.