University of California Archaeological Survey No. 29 | April 15, 1963
The Archaology of Bowers Cave, Los Angeles County, California
Albert B. Elsasser and Robert F. Heizer
Elsasser and Heizer provide a good inventory of the Bowers Cave artifacts, but some of their interpretations
They attribute the cave and its contents to the Chumash culture — i.e., Ventureño speakers of the coast
— perhaps because Bowers' own focus was on the Chumash of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
However, this cave, located in Los Angeles County, is commonly associated
with the Tataviam ethnolinguistic group, whose members actually lived in the area of the cave
at the time of its likely use. Also, Elsasser and Heizer identify
the four (or three) perforated stones attached to handles as weapons ("clubs"), which is highly unlikely. Other archaeologists interpret them
as having a ceremonial use (see e.g. Blackburn & Hudson 1990), just like many of the other artifacts that were stashed in the cave.
Even Bowers speculates that the perforated stones "were doubtless used in ... religious ceremonies, as they were accompanied
by a large number of bone flutes or whistles" (Benson 1997:32).
On May 2, 1884, brothers McCoy and Everette Pyle, a pair of young ranchers, stumbled upon Bowers Cave
in the Hasley hills behind Castaic.
Inside they found a treasure trove of native American artifacts, believed to have been deposited there by Tataviam Indians,
the dominant peoples of the Santa Clarita Valley from about A.D. 450 to the early 19th Century.
Among the artifacts were nine baskets [Elsasser & Heizer 1963]; 15 complete and another 18 partial flicker (and other) feather bands [ibid.];
45 bone whistles, various bullroarers and other items [ibid.]; and four ritual staffs or "sun sticks" —
perforated stones mounted on 45cm (approx. 18-inch) wooden handles [Johnson: pers. comm. 2013] — which were likely used in the Winter Solstice
ceremony [Benson 1997:32].
According to Van Valkenburgh , the Bowers Cave artifacts constituted "some of the most famous Indian material ever to be discovered in the United States"
inasumch as the hoard included the only perforated stones that were still attached to their original wooden handles when they were found.
Nothing so important had ever been unearthed in connection with the Tataviam.
Sold to Dr. Stephen Bowers, for whom the cave was named, most of the collection found its way to the
Peabody Museum of American Ethnology at Harvard University.
In 1952, the Peabody traded one of the ritual staffs to a museum in Australia [Blackburn & Hudson 1990:45] — traded for what, we don't know —;
the bulk of the collection is still at the Peabody.
Bowers Cave is located within the boundaries of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill property, near its northeastern border. It is unclear whether a planned
landfill expansion (as of 2013) will disturb it.
Read Van Valkenburgh's 1952 story of his rediscovery of Bowers Cave here.
Read Jerry Reynolds' 1984 story about Bowers Cave here.