The Southern Yana/Yahi Names


Ishi
(ca. 1860 – March 25, 1916)

The Southern Yana/Yahi sometimes are referred to as being the same tribe.  I asked Dr. Johnson to explain, this is how I remember what he said.  The Southern Yana/Yahi are similar in a lot of ways and their territories overlapped.  The scientists at UC Berkeley where Ishi was studied determined that the Yahi are a separate tribe from the Southern Yana.  There will probably not ever be enough scientific evidence to link the two tribes. 

The updated information marked with an asterisk* was written by Brent from Dr. Johnson’s notes. **Written by Dr. Johnson for the 1993 California State Fair.

The Yahi tribe is thought to be a foothill population based on most of the literature and the story of “Ishi” the last Yahi.  Archeological investigation by California State University, Sacramento, however, suggest that prior to the immigration of the ancestors of the Wintuan speaking peoples, which include the Wintu of the Redding area and the Nomlaki peoples south of Red Bluff, the ancestors of Yahi occupied the upper Sacramento Valley.  Most of the ground stone implements you see in this exhibit are part of the handicrafts of a Native American tribe, which no longer exists, the Southern Yana/Yahi.**
 
The shaped bowl with the handle and the other object with a handle are very rare.  Very seldom did the ancestors of the Yahi decorate or expend any effort beyond the basic shaping of an artifact.  Thus it is quite unusual to see not one but two specimens with nicely shaped handles.  Since the conical shaped handled bowl mortar has the same type of handle as the metate it is likely that it is ancestral Yahi not Wintun.  The Wintun people used this camp for the last 1500 years.  However they didn’t use metates as part of their culture.*  There have been a few metates with similar handles found in the lower Sacramento Valley.  At this time it is an unanswered question of how these implements come to be made like each other.*

The three metates are unusual, in that thin platter-like examples are seldom found in the Sacramento Valley or the Southern Cascade Foothills.  Instead the typical metate for grinding of grass and other seeds was usually made from an unshaped thick block of andesite, which is abundant in the Southern Cascade Foothills to the east of Red Bluff.

Small hand sized manos used with the metates have developed a glass-like polish from use.  Only one of these is made of vesicular basalt and is self-sharpening, while the other is of andesite and needs to be worked/pecked to roughen it up so it will grind the seeds.  These metates and manos are important in learning about who lived in the upper Sacramento Valley more than 1500 years ago.

The two porous-Vesicular Basalt lava artifacts were most likely traded from the Achumawi on the Pit River or the Atsugewi on Hat Creek to one of the other tribes.  Vesicular Basalt was used, because as the implement wore down it would self-sharpen as new air bubbles in the rock opened up.  One of the implements a metate of this type was found in eight pieces in a rock shelter on Death Trap Ridge on the Dye Creek preserve (about 9 miles from campsite).* 

The ancestors of River Nomlaki and Wintu Indians, who lived in the upper Sacramento Valley historically, did not use this type of implement to process their food.   These milling implements had to have been made by the ancestors of the Native Americans living in this region prior to Nomlaki and Wintu entrance into the region.

The hopper mortar base and pestles were used by all of these Indian peoples to pound acorns and other material into flour to be used in making a variety of food.  The Nomlaki and Wintu, however, made their mortar bases out of greywacke sandstone slabs (a type of rock commonly found in the coast ranges) that were seldom shaped and had no well-defined pit to center the hole in the bottom of the hopper basket.  The Yahi on the other hand, deliberately selected water-shaped rocks and worked/pecked a depression in the center that was almost always between six and seven inches in diameter and one to two inches deep. 

The example in the exhibit is representative of a hopper mortar base.  This illustration shows what the complete hopper mortar base and pestle were like when they were together.  The Yahi were excellent stone workers and made equipment for processing acorn, seeds, fish and other foods into flour, which could be more easily stored or made into soup, bread or some other type of food.