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

Stone carving of a fish (San Francisco, ca. 7000 BC) by early California Natives

When did people reach California?

The first people reached California about 17,000 BC. These early California people were probably fishing people. They came south along the Pacific coast in small boats, following the fish.

More about Paleo-Indians
History of fishing
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Some of these people 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)

Californian Native economy

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 wove baskets.

History of baskets
Basket-making project
What is gathering?
More about hunting

Acorns and pine nuts

Pine nuts

Pine nuts

By 9000 BC, California people ate a lot of acorns. They pounded the acorns into flour and baked them into bread. In other parts of California, people collected pine nuts to eat.

California people used controlled fires to encourage plants to grow where and how they wanted them. That’s a kind of farming. Some of these early California people were related to the Ute and Aztec people further east and south.

More about pine nuts
Who were the Ute?
And the Aztec?

Californians get bows and arrows

Around 3000 BC, people in California learned about bows and arrows, probably from the Chinook to their north.

Who are the Chinook?
More about bows and arrows

Californians and North American trade

By 1000 AD, Californian people like the Chumash (near Los Angeles) were trading with the Shoshone in Wyoming and with the Pueblo people in Arizona and New Mexico. The Chumash sold beads they made out of seashells. They strung the beads on cords. People all over the western part of North America used those beads as money, trading up and down the rivers as far as the Mississippi River.

Native American economy
The Pueblo people
The Shoshone
The Mississippians

The Athabascans

Possibly around 1300 AD, some Athabascan people came to live in California. They may have moved south because of the Little Ice Age, which started about this time.

Who were the Athabascans?
What’s the Little Ice Age?

How many people lived 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