Nearly 1200 mortar holes in the bedrock
Today we give thanks for our people and our food.  The Sierra Miwok have a Fall acorn harvest festival of thanksgiving in September that they call “Big Time”.  One such festival is held at the Chaw’Se (Grinding Rock) Indian Griding Rocks State Historic Park near Volcano, California.   A bedrock field of marbleized limestone has 1185 mortar holes, the largest collection of bedrock mortar holes in North America and is the only known place (except for one other small site) that is has petroglyphs decorating mortars.


The hole lined in green at the top is about 12 inches deep
Faint petroglyphs 3,000 years old or more
1200 mortar holes and over 300 petroglyphs

The bedrock grinding field has been celebrated over thousands of years with the carving of petroglyphs on and near the mortar holes.  Over three hundred petroglyphs have been documented on the rock, it is guesstimated that some of them are at least 3,000 years old. The site is protected as a spiritual heritage site by the Miwok and the State of California. At this time of year leaves fall from the oak trees covering the borders of the exposed bedrock, but only the Miwok are permitted to sweep away the leaves.  The park rangers have great respect for the Miwok and defer as much care for the site as possible to tribe members.

Very rare in the world, a mortar hole decorated with a petroglyph.

Below are photos of some of the more prominent petroglyphs.  Later I will take time to enhance photos of some of the ones that are harder to see and add them to a new post.  For now, enjoy.  Click on any of the images below to enlarge them.

On the property is a reconstructed Miwok village of bark houses, called u’macha.  They are circular on the inside, constructed of cedar poles bound with grapevine and lined on the outside with tree bark.  Squatting on the inside it is easy to imagine as many as six to eight people sleeping by twos around a central fire.

Outside the u’macha are granaries where a family’s store of acorns for the year would be protected. Granaries start with a stump or hollowed out stump.  A pole frame is constructed and line on the inside with wormwood to repel insects and critters.  Acorns are placed in the granary then covered with pine needles and maybe some leather for waterproofing.  The outside of the granary is covered with pine boughs to waterproof the outside of the container.

Branch covered granary beneath a tree
The roundhouse, the Hun’ge, was lovingly built by the modern Miwok and is currently used as a place for sacred festivals just as it would have been 1,500 years ago. Two public dances are held at the Hun’ge each year, Chaw’Se Days in May and Big Time in September.  The non-native public is invited, but there strict etiquette must be observed to enter the Hun’ge.

During our visit, a ranger offered to unlock the Hun’ge for my son and I to see inside.  Before entering the foyer he instructed us to spin around to release all negative energy. We were not permitted to enter the inner sanctum of the roundhouse but could view it from behind a wooden barricade.  We were also not permitted to take photos.  There was a fire pit in the center of the room surrounded by the Hun’ge’s four support pillars.

Hun’ ge / roundhouses have four supporting center posts and a central smoke hole.  No photos were allowed in the ceremonial house, but this photo was taken in the “changing hut” which is smaller, but has the same architecture style.
The fire pit was not stone lined, but a neat pit dug into the floor.  At the base of one pole were bills of paper money and at the base of another were some bundled herbs.  The ranger explained that each of the four support pillars represented some spiritual aspect of life such as “health” or “prosperity” and that the poles are never to be touched.  Likewise regalia is never to be touched.  In the old days the regalia would have been stored in the Hun’ge, but when the original people were chased from this site their valuables, such as their regalia was looted by the Russians and, oddly, most of the Miwok artifacts now in public museums is not in the United States, but in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Shade/rain shelter ramada. Outdoor work area.
A co-ed game like soccer was played on the ball court.  Men could only kick the ball with their feet.  Women could use their hands, but if they “held” the ball they could be tackled. What a flirty game!

Ball court
When the first Europeans came and saw the North American continent, they were amazed at what they assumed was a perfect natural virgin wilderness.  What they did not know is that the North American natives had been conscientiously tending the land for about 10,000 years.  They kept the forest floor free of debris with controlled burns and planted groves of plants and trees.  The Europeans couldn’t figure out why oak trees in North America grew in straight rows.  The natives had planted some of them that way.  What the Europeans were seeing was a lovingly tended coast to coast garden, the worlds largest outdoor farmer’s market.


This is a funny factoid I like to bring up to tease my white-boy husband of European descent.  Homo-erectus developed in Africa and began moving around the eastern hemisphere about 1.8 million years ago.  The species developed into the Neanderthal.  Some humans in the African region continued to evolve into homo-sapiens (which we consider ourselves to be today). Around 70,000 years ago homo-sapiens began to migrate from Africa, through the Middle East, into Asia, and onto Indonesia and New Guinea.  16,000 years ago homo-sapiens from Asia would migrate across the Bering Straights and populate North America.  Homo-sapiens didn’t reach Europe and replace the more primitive Neanderthal until 40,000 years ago.  That means that Europeans were Neanderthals 30,000 years longer than the entire rest of the world.  Even the people who had been Native Americans were evolved as a species in Asia 30,000 years longer than their ultimate conquerors, the Europeans.  Is it any wonder that white nationalists want Creationism taught in schools?

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.
My family and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.  May we all remember the story of the first Thanksgiving and the generous hearted original North Americans who helped the Anglo neophytes survive their first winter on a coast the natives had tended for 10,000  years.

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