Trade, Technology, Subsistence, and Mobility Patterns of Sjútkanga, the Encino Village Site, California

by Joanne Minerbi
Master of Arts in Anthropology, Public Archaeology
California State University, Northridge

Lifeways of hunter gatherers in the San Fernando Valley of California are not well understood, perhaps because urban development has limited this potential knowledge. The orphaned archaeological collection from the Encino Village Site provides a means to gain insight into subsistence, mobility, lithic technological organization, and social and economic ties of the people at this locale. Known as Sjútkanga to its descendants, the site is believed to be the location of the 1769 Portolá Expedition’s first resting place in the San Fernando Valley. The collection speaks to a culturally-rich and diverse way of life.

In the course of this research, I conducted detailed individual flake analysis of chert and looked closely at the density and composition of debitage from the site. I also observed tool density and diversity, heat treatment, and projectile point breakage patterns. Obsidian from several units was sourced, primarily to the Coso Volcanic Field. Results of these analyses confirm that the locale was the site of a significant village. 

Analysis investigated how subsistence, mobility, lithic technological organization, and social and economic ties changed through time and why. I found that the Medieval Climatic Anomaly (circa A.D. 800 to 1350) impacted ways of life at the site, but with its dependable spring, Sjútkanga was a locus of intensified occupation. During this time, villagers broadened the base of their diet, decreased their mobility, produced tools over the full use life from procurement to discard, and shifted their social and economic focus from the desert to the coast. 

This research contributes to literature that investigates the impact of climate change on cultural and demographic patterns, especially in the American West. These findings may impact knowledge about adaptations to environmental stress in indigenous populations of Southern California. Little has been published regarding lithics in the San Fernando Valley, so this research affords a deeper consideration of technological patterns of ethnic groups about whom not enough is known. Analysis of the Sjútkanga lithics also sheds light on what people ate, how they moved about the landscape, and why and how they interacted with surrounding groups. The foundation of research presented here suggests additional opportunities for researchers to work with the Sjútkanga archaeological collection. A variety of materials and methodologies have the potential to inform us of life at the village.