Photo courtesy National Park Service

courtesy National Park Service

June 3, 2017
The National Park Service (NPS) discovered a significant ancient Native American site while conducting archeological monitoring during a rehabilitation project of the historic Main Ranch House on Santa Rosa Island.

Archeologists discovered artifacts characteristic of ancient Paleocoastal sites that were occupied by the first islanders on the northern Channel Islands between 8,000 and 13,000 years ago.

Scientists now believe that ancient sites from this period may be evidence of a coastal migration following the North Pacific Rim from Northeast Asia into the Americas, part of the peopling of the new world.

The ancient site was discovered under the Main Ranch House, part of the historic Vail and Vicker Ranch at Bechers Bay, in the process of lifting the building to construct a new foundation.

“The northern Channel Islands have one of the largest and most significant clusters of early coastal sites in the Americas with more than 100 sites over 7,500 years old,” said Jon Erlandson, University of Oregon Archeologist and leading expert on Paleocoastal archaeology. “We suspect the site is at least 10,000 years old, with evidence of some of the earliest people on the West Coast, the first Americans.”

Among the artifacts uncovered were two types of stone tools that are distinctly representative of early North American Paleoindians —Channel Islands barbed points and crescents. Made from local island chert and used for hunting and fishing, they are signatures of a sophisticated technology of early tool making on the Channel Islands.

The early settlement sites on the Channel Islands produced several milestones in archaeology including the earliest evidence for seafaring and island colonization in North America, the oldest shell middens in North America, and the earliest basketry from the Pacific Coast of North America.

Santa Rosa Island is also the location of the discovery of Arlington Man, the oldest known human remains found in North America, dating to about over 13,000 years ago.

Part of the ancestral homeland of the Island Chumash, many contemporary Chumash families trace their heritage to Santa Rosa Island. There were up to 1,200 Chumash living there in at least nine known historic Chumash village sites, including Hichimin, which was located near the historic main ranch complex.

The Main Ranch House is a prominent building in the historic ranch, which operated as a sheep and cattle ranch for more than 150 years. It was constructed sometime after 1869 and it is believed to be one of the oldest wood framed structures in Santa Barbara County.

The NPS is involved in a major rehabilitation project on the historic ranch house on Santa Rosa Island for a new use as visitor lodging. This rehabilitation project is being conducted in a manner that preserves the historical integrity of the building. It will include constructing a new foundation, increasing its structural stability, repairing important architectural elements, and making it accessible.

Following this discovery, work on the ranch rehabilitation project was suspended to conduct an archaeological investigation. An NPS archaeological team, in consultation with the Chumash, is conducting careful test excavations in the vicinity of the ranch house to determine the nature, extent, and integrity of the deposits.

The NPS is consulting with tribal and preservation partners to monitor this work, to discuss management of the site, and to assess the results of the test excavations in order to determine the best course of action.