Thursday, September 30, 2010

Inferences Regarding Aboriginal Hunting Behavior

"Inferences Regarding Aboriginal Hunting Behavior in the Saline Valley, Inyo County, California"
Journal Issue:
Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, 2(1)
Brook, Richard A
Publication Date:
1980 Publication Info: Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, UC Merced Library, UC Merced
 Abstract: The documented use of stone "hunting blinds" behind which marksmen hid themselves "ventre a terre" (Baillie-Grohman 1884: 168) waiting for sheep to be driven along trails, can be found in the writings of a number of early historians (Baillie-Grohman 1884; Spears 1892; Muir 1901; Bailey 1940). Recent archaeological discoveries of rock features believed to be hunting blinds at the Upper Warm Springs (Fig. I) in Saline Valley, Inyo County, California, provide a basis to substantiate, build upon, and evaluate these observations and the ethnographic descriptions of hunting in the Great Basin (Steward 1933, 1938, 1941; Driver 1937; Voegelin 1938; Stewart 1941).
       ". . . curious structures . . . on the tops of round bald hills, a short distance to the northwest of the springs, being low walls of loose stones curved in the shape of a demilune, about ten feet in length and about three feet high . , . , There were twenty or thirty of them
     In another instance. Spears (1892:73) reported that prospectors watched the Indians construct these rock features with a great deal of apprehension. They jumped to the conclusion that the Indians were building forts to protect their mines of fabulous wealth and were preparing to attack the White travelers. Clearly, then, a good deal of lore and mystique surrounded the earliest accounts of these features.

John R. Spears, a reporter for the
"These sheep find their feed on the benches and gulches of the mountain side and, while eating, it is said, they never look upward. But when they are alarmed they fly to the top, and if there is a ridge there, follow it to the highest peak. Having observed this peculiarity, the Paiutes build blinds on the ridgetop runways. They started in during the fall of 1891 to build a number of such blinds on crests overlooking several Death Valley trails. The blinds were in all cases semicircular walls of stone . . . when all preparations were complete, [the Indians] posted their best marksmen in the blinds while the others chased the sheep up to the slaughter [1892:73]."
New York Sun, described rock structures in Death Valley and their function in hunting bighorn sheep:
. . . we took [them] to be graves, but which, as they face in one direction—that is to the northwest—were probably intended as lodging places to break the force of the violent prevailing winds; but why they should resort to the tops of these hills, and neglect the shelter of the numerous caverns and rocky crevices, is inexplicable. It may be that the bottoms have been subjected to deluges, and that it is to provide shelter during these overflows that the hills are chosen for the erection of these small parapets of stone; but the greatest probability is that they are connected with some of their religious observances [Woodward 1961 ;49].
An examination of these features, their location, orientation, and associations in conjunction with ethological attributes, strongly support the notion of a hunting function, and the argument is made that Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) were the primary target of this activity with perhaps a secondary emphasis on hunting of Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana).

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