The Chumash World at European Contact
Lynn H. Gamble, Ph.D.

This is such an important book.  Lynn Gamble is one of California’s foremost archaeologists and
anthropologists.  She graduated in anthropology from UC Berkeley in 1979, Phi Beta Kappa.  Ten years
later she was a practicing archeaologist and was featured in the L.A. Times for her work addressing the
threat that land development posed to California’s heritage.  She was then two years away from her
doctorate and had researched a very significant site at Goleta Slough.  The population had been
exploding in the Sunbelt all through the 1970s, and bulldozers were roaming the landscape of Southern
California threatening archaeological sites, some of which dated back at least 8,000 years.

Gamble’s book goes a long way toward giving us a feel for what life was like in the Chumashian cultural
sphere of southern California in 1769, when King Charles III became concerned about Russian fur
trading based on the Sonoma Coast north of San Francisco Bay and commenced Spanish colonization
of the area.  She lays out some of the important contours of societies of the time, addressing daily and
household life in the towns, politics and social organization, and the nature of the economy.  She
discusses leadership structures, social class distinctions among elites and commoners, gender issues,
and warfare.  

Gamble explains how Channel Islanders minted millions of units of currency in the form of shell disks,      
i.e, coinage, which were employed in transactions between the islands and the mainland.  The
mainlanders traded commodities for high value materials available only on the islands, and for finished
goods.  She mentions numerous communities of the time, such as Noqto , Shilimaqshtush, Kashtayit,
Humaliwo (from which the name Malibu derives), and many others.  

As people consumed shellfish, they discarded the shells in mounds which grew over time.  Gamble is
now working on a Southern California island site where people lived for about 2,700 years, and where
the shell mound is so large that it can be seen from over eight kilometers away, thus indicating the
significance of the human presence there through time and the importance of paying attention to it.  
Gamble’s work to recover and interpret evidence of California’s heritage is more than just fascinating.  A
retrospective inclination helped usher in the European Renaissance, and I believe that careful attention
to the human experience where we live has the same sort of power to enlighten, to stir up stagnant
cultural pools, and to broaden our minds and perspectives in the present day.

- Glenn Anaiscourt


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The Chumash World at European Contact
Book Reviews
by Glenn Anaiscourt