Native Californian Cultures
Over thousands of years, the Native peoples of the present state of California developed many complex cultures, with differing customs related to varied environments and histories. At the time of Spanish settlement in 1769, there were as many as 100 distinct culture groups, each speaking a different language. At the same time, because of marriage, trade, and communication, many fundamental ways of life were shared throughout California. With an estimated 310,000 people at the time of European contact, California was one of the most densely populated regions in Native North America.
Since its founding in 1901, a major focus of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology has been the Native peoples of California. Today, with 260,000 catalog entries, the museum preserves the world's largest and most comprehensive collection devoted to the region. California was a particular interest of Alfred L. Kroeber, the university's first curator and professor of Anthropology. In addition to substantial ethnographic collections, from both historical and living groups, about two-thirds of the collection dates to the pre-contact period, most of it gathered under the direction of Berkeley archaeologist Robert F. Heizer. These artifacts are supplemented by large and well-documented collections of photographs, films, and sound recordings.
In this gallery, we present an overview of Native Californian cultures. "Visible storage" display allows us to share with the public a selection drawn from our vast permanent collections. This exhibit demonstrates the great diversity of the Californian peoples who live within the boundaries of the present state. By grouping objects according to common usage or object type, the similarities and differences among California peoples are made readily apparent. Because objects have more than one use or meaning, however, this can be only a starting point. We regard this display as a living and changing exhibition. Over time, we will feature different objects and collections, reflecting the dynamism, complexity, and beauty of Native Californian cultures.