Yahi Camp Display

Ancestral Native American Yahi (Ishi's) Tribe Camp - 1500 to 2500 years ago

Artifacts in River Flood Plains

Some artifacts were washed into the river by floods that eroded banks and made new channels.  A lot of the stone implements found in the river flood plains got there by the farmers that first planted the valley.  Native American camps sites were higher in elevation than the ground around them not allowing the farmers to flood irrigate their crops.  They leveled off the camp and village sites by pushing the land over the banks into the rivers and creeks also filling up gullies.  One farmer told Brent that his dad told a story of how his dad cleared a field and took two wagon loads of stone bowls (rocks) and dumped them into the river to help protect the bank from eroding. 


A. Yahi Territory – Sacramento River near Los Molinos, Tehama County, Northern California.
The camp was set up in a way to best show all the artifacts that were left here by the Yahi tribe and the Wintuan speaking peoples, which include the Wintu tribe north of Red Bluff and the Nomlaki peoples south of Red Bluff.
This picture is not intended to be an exact recreation of a native camp, rather through this picture these artifacts will give you a deeper appreciation and respect the ancestral Yahi and all Native Americans deserve.

B. Redbud – Common in Yahi Territory.

C. Branches of old valley oak tree that fell into river during flooding.

D. Fire pit rocks were heated and then dropped into basket of food to cook it. The rocks had to be constantly stirred to keep from burning the basket.

E. Acorns were processed into flour to make a type of bread.

F. Cottonwood tree bark was used to line cache pits and act as insulation. The inter-bark would be stripped to make small diameter rope also used to start fires.

G. Gray or Bull pine tree cones, were used for the nuts and pitch used for glue.

H. Deer skins and antlers- Meat was dried to use later. Skins were used for blankets, clothing, straps, door and wind breaks. Antlers were used for making sharp pointed tools such as awls that were used for sewing.


1. Shaped Mortar bowl with the conical-shaped handle has not been seen in modern times. Shown here with pestle for pounding pine nuts and acorns into flour. What may seem to be a small feature to us would have been a source of pride for a Yahi to have in one’s possession.

2. The metate with the conical shaped handle and the thin platter-like metates are rare. Examples like these are seldom found in the Sacramento Valley or the Southern Cascade Foothills. The rarity of these handled artifacts and shaped metates reflects the difficulty the native had working the hard lava stone. Metates are the plates that seeds and other dried foods were ground on with a hand-held “mano” stone. (2A)

3. Mortar bowls – These six mortars reflect the wide range of functions that the natives would have used a mortar bowl for. The mortars were used for processing acorns, dried fish, rodents, birds, and other dried foods into flour that could be made into bread and added to stews and acorn soup in order to add flavor and protein.

3A.Small bowls could be used to hold nuts when cracking them and to crush herbs to make medicines.

4. Hopper Mortar Bases – The Yahi chose a round flat, river rock to work out a round shallow pit. A bottomless basket was then placed on the pit to act as a hopper. The women would sit with their legs around the basket to hold it in place while pounding
food materials with a pestle.

4A.These bases could be used without a basket by using a mano stone to grind food in the pit.

5. Red Pigment on Paint Pallet – Ocher is a red pigment in soil that came from a quarry in a rock shelter used by the Yahi. This paint pallet was stuck upside down in a mortar protecting its color. Implements where turned over to protect the surface and put in a cache pit when the Yahi moved to their summer home in the mountains.

6. Pestles – Yahi made two kinds of pestles. They picked out a elongated stream cobble rock and then battered it flat on one or both ends.

6A.These were shaped by pecking and working over the entire surface with a rock hammer tool, then battered flat on the end.


7. The arrival of the Wintuan speaking peoples in the Sacramento Valley forced the Yahi to abandon their river camp 1500 years ago. They shaped this pestle likely to use with their hopper basket on this Yahi made hopper mortar base (Wintuan pestles were rounded on the ends). Common sense suggests that they would have found the Yahi bases and metates very useful.

7A.The Wintuan peoples did not use metates as part of their culture. They likely used the Yahi metates as we would use our drain or cutting boards today to organize things on. These two long pestles were made by the Wintuan to use in their hopper mortar baskets.

8. These pestles were used in wooden mortars and stumps. The striations from the wood are worn into their ends. These were not shaped, but retain the original shape of river rocks they were found in.

9. Naturally shaped by the river except for the two eyeholes, that have been pecked and worked out to give it that look. What do you see? The Wintuan collected and sometimes modified unusually shaped rocks for use by the Shamans and for other purposes. This piece was found in the river flood plain.

10. Fishing net weights – The Yahi used harpoons to catch fish and the Wintuan used nets with stone weights to net fish. The seven shaped weights and the three river rocks that had holes pecked through them shows two different ways the weights were made.

11.This bowl and metate were made by a tribe to the northeast. These artifacts were then traded to the Yahi or Wintuan people, shown here holding nuts for some special function. These were found in the river flood plain.

Written by Brent Thompson based on information that was provided by Dr. Jerald Jay Johnson’s book “Ishi and His Ancestors” May, 2009. The science he provided for the exhibit at Tehama County and California State Fairs in 1993 and the updated science Dr. Johnson provided in April of 2010. Book can be found at: The Dept. of Anthropology, California State University Sacramento, 6000 J. Street, Sacramento, CA 95819-6106