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Stone carving of a fish (San Francisco, ca. 7000 BC)

Stone carving of a fish (San Francisco, ca. 7000 BC)

The first people probably reached California about 17,000 BC. They were probably fishing people, coming south along the Pacific coast in small boats, following the fish. Some of them kept on going south and reached Central America and then South America. Some moved inland, fishing out of Lake Tahoe and other lakes instead of in the ocean. Others stopped in California, where they did very well.

Grinding holes for grinding acorns into flour (California)

Grinding holes for grinding acorns into flour (California)

Soon many people lived in California. They didn’t live in cities, though. Californian people lived in small groups of about a hundred people, a few related families. They were fishers and hunters and gatherers. They used bows and arrows, and they wove baskets.

By 9000 BC, they ate a lot of acorns, pounded into flour and baked into bread. In other parts of California, they collected pine nuts to eat. California people used controlled fires to encourage plants to grow where and how they wanted them – a kind of farming. Some of these Californian people were related to the Ute and Aztec people further east and south.

Possibly around 1300 AD, maybe because of the Little Ice Age, some Athabascan people came to live in California.

By this time, California was the most crowded part of North America other than the Aztecs in Mexico. About a third of all the people in what is now the United States lived in California.

Learn by doing: cooking with acorns
California after European invasions

Bibliography and further reading about California history:

Paiute history
Ute history
More about Native Americans home