Long before cars speed by on the 118, and even before the Spanish Portolà expedition reached Simi Valley in 1770 – Simi Valley was home to a band of Chumash Indians. Over 5,000 years ago the Chumash settled Simi Valley; there was no freeway system, no streets lined with businesses, no children playing in fenced backyards. Simi Valley was wild, as wild as Alaska’s, Yukon.
When the Chumash first arrived in Simi Valley, their way of life was very primitive. Hunting technology was still at it’s earliest form, thus, these early Native American settlers survived on mostly acorn and marsh plants – and they did so for nearly 2,000. As hunting techniques and weaponry advanced, so did the Chumash – and their population soared to new levels.
There was two major village sites in Simi Valley, Shimiji and Ta’apu. Quimisac was a third village, but located in modern-day Moorpark. Ta’apu, located in Topo Canyon was the largest of these villages, with nearly double the population of both Shimiji and Quimisac. Ta’apu was also the only village in historic times to have had a resident chief.
On the outskirts of modern-day Hummingbird Nest Ranch, there remains evidence of a past Chumash habitation site – several rock shelters in the vicinity have mortars under their overhangs or on nearby bedrock formations. Water at one time would have been available year round at Hummingbird Spring, which flowed between the outcropping of boulders. The spring still flows above ground today, but is more seasonal – dry as a bone in the hot summer months.
This may not have been a full-time village site, but rather a camp site that was used over a long period by tribal members as they traveled between villages, or hunted. I stress long-term use because of the sizes of the mortars, some are several inches in depth (up to six-inches), and twelve-inches in diameter. On some of the photos, I have used my lens cap to provide a comparison.
The most intriguing of the shelters, is a long-cave; several yards in length. In the middle of the cave, one large mortar. A cupule is located along the edge of the cave – it is possible that this cupule was used to hold pigment, that was used to paint the interior of the shelter. If that is the case, the pigment is long covered in a black soot from ancient/and or historic fires that had been built under the shelter.
Unfortunately the rock shelters have suffered from abuse – located along the busy 118 freeway, they are easy access to just about anyone. The shelters have been known to house the homeless, who have in the past carpeted the interiors – and stayed for long periods of time; teenagers and junkies have used the areas for parties, fixes, and vandalism in the form of “420 Forever” spray-painted on the boulders. During my visit, I encountered a used needle and syringe shoved into a crack in the boulders – if you venture into this area be very cautious and aware of your surroundings.
I have heard that there are plans to build a park in an open area directly beside the boulder strung cliff, as well a residential development in the same vicinity. If/when this happen, it is very likely that these precious archaeological sites will suffer further damage, eventually disappearing from the landscape all together. This leaves me wondering what will eventually be left of the past, as we “advance” into the future – expanding our towns and cities, destroying the last few small traces of a civilization that came before us.