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The Chumash Period

The Tomol Canoe

Since much of their livelihood was linked to the ocean, the tomol plank canoe became an important part of the culture.
Within villages, the Brotherhood of the Tomol came together to construct the vessels. Learn more, watch the video ...

Museum Display


Mseum Display


Shell Middens

Shell middens suggest that by 6000 B.C. people were settling in our bioregion in permanent communities, and that by 3000 B.C. the food sources were more diversified with distinctive cultures developing. What is meant by distinctive? Very local conditions and resources produce local expressions of life, for example since this region was covered in savanna oak woodland, an acorn-eating culture developed, one that is now referred to as Balanophagy, and was typical of local Chumash tribes. Shells being common, these also formed the bedrock of a successful bead trade.

Based upon the bead trade, the coastal peoples began developing a more complex culture. Each group showed special characteristics that were partly developed for the ecology on hand. Since the environment met human needs, tools were adapted to live both in and with that environment. Writers postulate that the bow and arrow made a local appearance during this period, and that acorn-grinding tools underwent advancement.


Various estimates exist as to the number of Chumash that lived in the bioregion, as delineated for Hidden Corner. Ranging from 10,000 to
18,500 people, some writers suggest that the population may have
declined substantially during the period when contact with crews of Spanish ships brought disease and death.



Several related languages were spoken. Although there are few living native speakers, John Peabody Harrington produced well-documented field notes for a handful of dialects. Visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History for an interpretive display related to this work. The first Chumash dictionary was published in the Samala dialect in April 2008. (See the link at the top of this page.)


Being hunter-gatherers, the Chumash were adept at fishing. Well-informed estimates place the annual Steelhead Trout run up the Santa Ynez River at about 25,000 fish as late as the 1940s. This was after construction of Gibraltar Dam, but before Lake Cachuma came into existence with the building of Bradbury Dam. Runs during the early Chumash period were
likely much larger, with Golden Beaver also established in the river.

The Chumash were one of the relatively few New World peoples to regularly navigate the ocean. Settlements built plank canoes called tomols, which were used for hunting and trade. They were also known for their intricate basket weaving and bead manufacturing industry, all of which established the Chumash as a hub for regional trade.