Technology — the tools, implements, and facilities used to gather plants, take game, make tools, and provide shelter from the elements — was relatively simple, though nor unsophisticated.
The more substantial dwellings were built at important, long-term settlements. In the lowlands these were circular, domed willow pole frameworks thatched with
Tule or Bulrush (Scirpus spp.) or grasses (esp. Elymus spp.) (Fig. 13.2). In the White Mountains, with the different materials at hand, houses were conical or oblong gabled affairs (Fig. 13.3) made with Pinyon Pine (Pinus monophylla ) or Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma ) limbs and covered with fresh pine boughs or pine duff.
Both lowland and upland houses were furnished with fireplaces, principally for warmth. Most cooking was done outside or in a structure similar in construction to dwellings and built especially for that purpose.
Settlements used for shorter periods, less than a month or so, were generally furnished only with low, circular brush enclosures or windbreaks. There might be one for each family — each with its own hearth — or a single, large one for several families, within which each family used and maintained a separate fireplace for cooking and heating. Such brush "surrounds" where also built at more permanent settlements, for cooking or sleeping in warm weather.
Hunters unable to return to their base camps at night often built little or no shelter and kept themselves warm by means of a small fire built in the open, although they might seek the cover of rock ledges or cave mouths in inclement weather.
Virtually all containers were of basketry, which in both durability and weight suited the needs of peoples often on the move. Among the most important of these wares (Fig. 13.4) were the large, conical carrying baskets fitted with tumplines, pitch-covered or lined water jugs, storage baskets, plaque-like serving trays, and cooking vessels, the contents of which were heated by means of hot rocks. Small quantities of pottery vessels (Fig. 13.5), made of clay from weathered granitic outcrops and fashioned in coils laid one atop another and then scraped smooth, were also used
as cooking vessels. An advantage of such vessels was that their contents — generally mixed stews of seed mush and meat — could be cooked directly over a fire.
The stone mano (Fig. 13.6a ), a small bun-shaped implement with a flat or rounded grinding face, was held by hand (hence its name, the Spanish word for "hand") and worked over a large millingstone (metate , Fig. 13.6b ). The flat or basin-shaped surface of the metate served to render seeds into flour, which could be eaten as paste or cooked into mush.
With the exception of a few resources that were taken cooperatively, the procurement of plants and animals was performed by individuals working entirely in isolation, or singly but in the company of a few others engaged in the same task, and was
more or less strictly divided along the lines of sex: plant collection was generally the responsibility of women, animal procurement the responsibility of men. The gear used by men and women differed accordingly.
Plant procurement. Many plant foods could simply be picked by hand: succulent sprouts and shoots, leafy greens, and some berries and seeds. The bulk of plant collection, however, entailed the use of two tools: the seed beater, generally used in conjunction with a collecting tray, and the digging stick. The basketry seed beater (see Fig. 13.4c ), similar in construction to but slightly smaller than a tennis racquet, was used to strike ripened seeds from their stalks directly into the conical carrying basket or into a shallow, triangular collecting tray (see Fig. 13.4d ). The latter also served in the winnowing and parching of seeds. The digging stick, generally about a meter long, sharpened and fire-hardened at one end, was used primarily to excavate roots and bulbs, but it also served to probe for and expose caches to roots and seeds stored by rodents.
When traveling in the field, women commonly carried with them basketry repair kits — foreshortened versions of more elaborate gear used at home — which included a cactus spine awl, willow splints for material, and a small, sharp flake of stone to cut and shape the willow splints. A woman also might equip herself with a stone knife hafted in wood (Fig. 13.7a ), which both at home and in the field was used as a general-purpose tool for cutting, sawing, and scraping wood, fiber, hide, meat, and a variety of other materials.
Plant collecting expeditions were generally conducted within a two-hour walk of the base settlement, either a permanent village or short-term collecting camp. Operation within this restricted area permitted individuals the time to locate promising collecting areas and work them thoroughly and still return to the base camp before nightfall.
Plants were the center of the Paiute adaptation. They furnished fully 70% of the annual dietary intake, and their collection and preparation constantly occupied womenfolk. It was the gathering of plants, not the hunting of animals, that dictated the seasonal movements and the location of settlements for these peoples.
Animal Procurement. The major implements used by men were those of the hunt. These included the sinew-backed bow and arrow. The arrow was compound — fletched
and constructed with a reed (Phragmites communis ) mainshaft, at the front of which was inserted a hardwood foreshaft, generally of Greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus ) (Fig. 13.7b ). The foreshaft might be further modified by the attachment of: (1) a stone point for large game, including deer (Odocoileus hemionus ) and Mountain Sheep (Ovis canadensis spp.); (2) a thick collar of sinew that caused the arrow to bounce along the water, for ducks and geese; (3) a set of four sticks lashed perpendicular to the foreshaft, for such upland birds as quail; or (4) nothing at all, leaving a simple hardened foreshaft for use on small game such as rabbits (Sylvilagus audubonii ).
In addition, hunters generally carried a stone knife for skinning and cutting and an emergency repair kit with replacement stone points and wooden foreshafts. They were also commonly equipped with an antler flaker to resharpen broken points and stone knives dulled through use, and to fashion other implements made of stone for use by both men and women. Production of the latter kind was always done at base camps rather than in the field, where time was limited and attention was on the hunt.
Depending on the kind of expedition being undertaken, men might also carry the trigger mechanisms and trip cords meeded to fashion snares or deadfalls in the field, the intended prey generally being small birds and rodents to supply the hunter with food. Larger snares, however, were also used to immobilize deer or sheep long enough to be dispatched by hunters lying in wait.
Most Paiute hunting excursions were conducted out of the family base camp, with one or two individuals traveling to specific locations where game was known to be present and particularly susceptible to ambush at a given time of day. Because in this kind of hunting the stalk and chase are quickly done, hunters were able to make longer daily trips than women engaged in seed collection. A kill late in the day or the prospect of success at the following daybreak, however, occasionally meant spending the night far from the main camp.
Communal hunts — large, fire-aided deer drives undertaken by as many as 100 assembled men, and fall antelope and jackrabbit drives engaging the combined efforts of men, women, and children — were alternative forms of animal capture, but they were periodic in occurrence and a substantial departure from the daily pattern. Overall, hunting provided no more than about 30% of annual dietary intake, and the gopher, mouse, wood rat, and rabbit were more common on the menu than the deer, Mountain Sheep, and antelope.
Pinyon procurement . All of the subsistence activities described so far, whether pertaining to plants or to animals, are generalized in the sense that they embrace broad classes of resources rather than one species. The seed beater could be used for no less than 50 individual species of grasses and berries, the bow and arrow for perhaps half as many animals. This offered both hunter and gatherer a wide range of resources of which only the most choice would be sought on any given foray. This wide selection is a reflection that none of these resources was productive and reliable enough to merit special attention.
The nut of the Pinyon Pine (Pinus monophylla ) stands in marked contrast to all other resources, for it was available in large quantities with some degree of frequency. As a result, a specialized procurement system developed around this one plant. Because there are extensive Pinyon Pine groves in the White Mountains, a substantial proportion of aboriginal activity in this range, prehistoric and historic, centered around this specialized system, which is worth describing in some detail.
The nut of the Pinyon Pine was the single most important food resource in the dietary regimen of the Paiute of Deep Springs, Fish Lake, and Owens valleys. For all three, the major groves were in the White Mountains at elevations between 6560 ft (2,000 m) and 8,528 ft (2,600 m). In the event these groves failed, which was common, there were alternative groves in the Silver Peak Range, east of Fish Lake Valley; in the Benton Range and Glass Mountain Ridge, north of Owens Valley; in the Inyo Mountains, south of the White Mountains; and in the Sierra Nevada, west of Owens Valley.
Pine cones develop and mature over a two-year period, during which they may be lost to drought, wind, frost, or insect infestation. This fragility stretched over a two-year span explains the frequent failure of individual groves to produce any crop at all, which in turn was responsible for much aboriginal movement, commonly over long distances, to find productive groves.
The nut enclosed within the cone ripens by early fall, when the cone is still green and thickly covered with pitch. It was at this time that native groups, commonly entire bands or villages, would move from the lowland summer camps or villages to the lower margin of the Pinyon Woodland. Here they established base camps for the Pinyon Pine harvest, generally on ridges and saddles, where the ground was relatively flat. The size of the crop was readily evident even by casual inspection. If it were large, gabled or conical long dwellings — usually one to a family with a separate cookhouse — were constructed in anticipation of winter residence in these locations. If the crop were judged too small to sustain extended winter occupation, only temporary shelters were made, and with the close of the harvest the site was vacated in favor of a lowland village. Upon departure, that part of the crop that could be transported was taken along and the balance cached for a later trip.
Owing to its importance in the winter diet, all possible measures were taken to maximize the nut harvest. The most crucial step in this regard was the initiation of the harvest while the cones were still green, pitch-covered, tightly closed, and, therefore, relatively inaccessible to the birds and rodents that competed for them. Cones left on the tree until brown and dry are more easily handled and their nuts more easily freed, but this shortens the harvest and brings heavy losses through animal depredation. The Paiute, who were so dependent on the pine nut, therefore undertook the more arduous green cone harvest.
The basic gathering party was the nuclear family. The father, equipped with a long, hooked pole, shook cones loose from the higher limbs. The mother worked the lower limbs by hand or hook, and the children gathered fallen cones and climbed through the lower limbs to shake out the more tenacious ones. The gathering occupied the
first half of the day. The second half was devoted to roasting the green cones. A nest of brush was set afire and its smoldering embers heaped over the cones. This burned away most of the pitch, dried the cones, and caused the cone scales to open, duplicating the natural aging that occurs in cones left to brown on the tree. Roasted cones were raked from the embers and, while still hot, struck with a stone hammer on a stone anvil. The nuts were then shaken and pried from the cones. The nuts were then parched with coals on a basketry tray, shelled with the mano and metate , parched (toasted) again, and then ground into meal.
During the best years, when the slow roasting and shelling process could not keep pace with the flow of the harvest, green cones were stored in grass-lined pits and covered with grass, boughs, and stones. Free nuts were stored similarly.
The Pinyon Pine harvest was a microcosm of Paiute subsistence in two respects. First, it illustrates the complex, time-consuming, and difficult processing attached to the collection, preparation, and storage of nearly all plant foods, which were the mainstays of subsistence. Second, and perhaps less obvious, the heavy investment of time in the Pinyon Pine harvest was primarily a consequence of the importance of the pine nut in the Paiute diet. Lesser reliance on pine nuts would have enabled the Paiute to collect only the ripe, brown cones and forgo the extra effort involved in roasting the green cones. At work here is the general principle of diminishing returns: the greater the quantity exploited, the greater the cost per individual item (cone, root, seed, or animal). Take the familiar activity of apple picking, for example. One or two apples (say, to snack on) can be obtained quickly and effortlessly from the lower branches of a tree. If, on the other hand, one required two or three lugs (boxes) of apples (say, for canning) from that same tree, the average time spent obtaining each individual fruit would almost certainly go up because apples from higher, less accessible branches would be needed to fill the boxes, and it would take more time and effort to get them. One might even be forced to pick smaller apples, and this too would increase the amount of time needed to fill the boxes. To obtain 10 lugs of apples from the tree would doubtless require an even greater average expenditure of time and effort per individual fruit. It might, for instance, demand that a ladder be made, the cost and effort of which would have to be added to the cost directly associated with the job of apple picking.
In the case of the Paiute, the cost per kilo of pine nuts was high because it was important in the diet and exploited in large quantities. In a broader sense, the difficult and time-consuming labor associated with the procurement of nearly all of the plants and animals used by the Paiute is a reflection that, relative to the resources available, the population had by late prehistoric times grown quite large. This is a point that figures prominently in the prehistory of the White Mountains.
The Annual Round
The preceding discussion centers on the various parts of aboriginal Paiute life: the technology, the resources exploited by means of that technology, and the tactics of that exploitation. Underlying these, however, was a general strategy that linked all
these parts into a coherent whole, balancing resources and activities to maximize the economic return for the labor expended, and distributing people over the landscape in a way that made this mix possible.
This strategy is termed the annual round , and its fundamental basis was the distribution and seasonal availability of various plant and animal resources. Much more than this was revolved, however, because out of the more than 100 plant and animal species exploited, several were generally available at the same time, commonly in different places. Choices had to be made, therefore, as to which should be taken and which ignored. Time and location were critical considerations. Many summer grasses, for example, ripen and disperse their seeds within a very narrow "window" of time — often as little as a week. Even a day's tardiness in reaching such plants could reduce the potential harvest by as much as one-third. There was, too, the element of location. Between two resources, exploiting the most productive one might leave a group poorly positioned for subsequent resource collection whereas pursuing the less productive one might fit better with the larger pattern of movements and, in the long run, represent the more economical option.
Complexities inherent in these decisions were exacerbated by circumstances of the moment: a chance thunderstorm that filled a dry basin with a shallow lake teeming with Fairy Shrimp, or a rocky cleft with sufficient water to supply a collecting expedition in an area normally too far from water to be exploited; an unusual concentration of edible insects; an abundance of bulb-bearing plants; or a windstorm that scattered seeds that would normally have been gathered.
All of these conditions defied solution according to rigid timetables and unvarying schedules and yielded only to a flexible pattern in which the general structure — the annual round — was determined but the details varied from year to year, season to season, and moment to moment. Two basic rules prevailed: (1) Seasonal resources were exploited in preference to nonseasonal resources. (2) Plant foods rather than animal foods dictated movements and activities.
It is only in reference to this larger context that aboriginal land use of the White Mountains can be properly understood. The White Mountains were but one small aspect of the Paiute annual round, and the decision to use their resources was always balanced against what was available elsewhere — especially in the lowlands, where travel was easier and, as a consequence, most activities tended to concentrate.
A brief sketch of the Paiute annual round, therefore, begins with the observation that most of the year was spent in the lowlands below the White Mountains. The gathering year began with the appearance of edible roots and greens, the first fresh food after a winter of stored food. Because spring comes earlier at low elevations, most groups worked the valley floors at this time, moving there from upland villages if they had spent the winter in the mountains. By late spring, attention turned to seed plants, which reached peak abundance both in number of species and quantity of crop in midsummer. Because plants in dry habitats generally ripen earlier than those in wet ones, summer resource exploitation required a balance between availability of food resources and access to water. Because stored summer plants were an essential part of the winter diet, the prospective location of winter camps, from which food
caches had to be accessible, also figured prominently in the location of summer plant procurement.
In the late summer and early fall, attention turned first to wetland plants and then to the critical fall Pinyon Pine harvest. It was also in this season that annual festivals were held, generally in conjunction with antelope or rabbit drives, which could sustain a large group without unduly straining the winter stores of the host band or village. At this time of maximum social aggregation, new social ties were established and old ones strengthened. Plans for the future were made and publicized. It would be easy to mistake this socializing as nothing more than indulgence in the pleasure of company, but it had a more serious aspect: It was an essential ingredient of efficient resource exploitation that reduced the possibility of two families by chance disrupting each other's collecting round by targeting the same set of resources in the same general area. Further, it facilitated the planning of undertakings that required the cooperation of more than one family. Following the festival, groups returned to their winter camp — in the Pinyon Woodland if the nut crop had been large, or in the lowlands if it had been small. In these camps the winter was waited out, the time filled with the repair and manufacture of equipment and the recounting of ancient story cycles that explained the origin of the world and described the role of the Paiute in the deeper scheme of things.
We can underscore the relationship of the White Mountains to the Paiute annual round by noting that only two resources present in this range figured prominently in that system: the pine nut and large game — Mountain Sheep, deer, and possibly antelope. Stated another way, in terms of food return for unit of labor expended, out of all the natural resources potentially available in these uplands, only the pine nut and large game compared favorably with the lowland resources routinely exploited by the Paiute.
Hunters worked into the lower parts of the White Mountains on a daily basis when their family camps were located sufficiently nearby and game was in residence there — principally in the summer, when most herds grazed at elevations well above their low winter rangelands. The most intensive activity, however, was in the fall, when the Owens Valley Paiute, Deep Springs Valley Paiute, and Fish Lake Valley Paiute gathered, processed, and stored pine nuts in the extensive Pinyon Pine groves of this range, commonly remaining there until the following spring, provided the pine nut take was sufficiently large. Hunters also worked out of these fall and winter Pinyon camps, although they were far more successful in the fall, when herds, fat from summer grazing and their coats in peak condition, funneled out of the highlands along established migration routes. Later in winter, travel was more difficult for hunting parties and game was in poorer condition owing to lack of feed.