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The People from the Top of the Land

Pomo feathered basket The Pomo made famously beautiful feathered baskets (Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology)
On the trail of the Kashaya Pomo tribe, 'The People from the Top of the Land'

 
FORT ROSS, CA
– This summer, a class of UC Berkeley students is camping on the Northern California coast, working with the Kashaya Pomo tribe to bring the Kashaya's past back to life. The Kashaya have lived in this area for thousands of years.

 California map

Students are bivouacked at Fort Ross State Historic Park, a three-hour drive north of the Berkeley campus on the majestic Sonoma County coast. During their one month in the field, students will help plan an archaeological interpretive trail in the state park highlighting the cultural history of the Kashaya and their encounter almost 200 years ago with a Russian fur-trading enterprise. The locale provides a unique opportunity to tell the stories of what happened to native peoples who were incorporated into the first mercantile colony in California. In turn, this website will chronicle the students' exploration of the Kashaya's world.

The Kashaya still live in this region. Prior to the arrival of the first Europeans, an estimated 1,500 persons occupied about 900 square miles of territory. The Russian-American Company, a commercial monopoly representing Russia's interest in the lucrative North Pacific fur trade, established Colony Ross in the heart of Kashaya country from 1812-1841. The idea of developing an interpretive trail grew out of previous archaeological research and discussions with Kashaya tribal scholars and elders.

The field program is a collaborative effort of the California State Parks, the Kashaya Pomo tribe, and UC Berkeley. The students, most of whom are anthropology majors, are enrolled in Anthro 133: Field Methods in California Archaeology, a course taught by Professor Kent Lightfoot. The course provides training in the basic principles of archaeological field methods.

Students will be involved in three primary tasks. One is to record and test several archaeological sites that will be incorporated into the interpretive trail. Students will learn how to survey and detect artifacts as well as record and map their finds.

Secondly, the class will work with Kashaya elders and tribal scholars in developing a program for presenting Kashaya Pomo history to the public. A very rich oral tradition exists among the elderly generation of tribal members, and this body of stories is a powerful source for examining how colonialism impacted the Kashaya people. Kashaya elders will be consulted about the archaeological sites to be included on the trail and about potential interpretive stops on the trail system. Thirdly, students will be divided into field crews that will work with interpretive and museum specialists to develop plans for specific segments of the trail system.

Roughing it, students will live at a group campground in the Fort Ross State Historic Park. Thanks to a water shortage in the park, showers will be limited. The camp cooks are Kashaya Pomo women, and they will probably be preparing some local favorite dishes. The camp will house 15 undergraduate students, four graduate students, one post-doc, three faculty/lecturers, and an assortment of visiting archaeologists, interpretive specialists, museum scientists, and Kashaya Pomo and California State Park participants. Stay tuned to our reports from Kashaya territory!

— Professor Kent Lightfoot