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Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

Natural Oil & Gas Seeps in California

Native American Uses of Asphaltum

Native Americans living in California used the asphaltum from natural oil seeps to caulk their canoes, to hold together hunting weapons and baskets, and to make walnut-shell "Huutch Uish" dice. These uses of asphaltum are shown in the photographs and drawings below.

Canoe Caulked with Asphaltum

Photo of canoe built in 1914.This 23-foot canoe is made of wooden planks held together with dowels and plant fibers and caulked with asphaltum. The canoe was built in 1914 by Fernando Librado, a 110-year-old Chumash man.

Photo courtesy of the San Diego Museum of Man.

Basket and Brush Glued with Asphaltum

Photo of prehistoric basket hopper.This basket hopper was made in prehistoric times and found near Chico, California. The basket is about 14 inches across and affixed to a stone mortar (center) with asphaltum. This design allowed a large quantity of seeds to be ground at one time.

Photo by J. Spriggs. From Onshore Oil and Gas Seeps in California.

Photo of Maidu mortar and brush.This is a Maidu mortar and brush for preparing acorn-meal. The brush is made of soap-root fibers glued together with asphaltum and laced with string.

Photo by J. Spriggs. From Onshore Oil and Gas Seeps in California.

Weapons Made with Asphaltum

Drawing of Yokuts hunting tools.These Yokuts hunting tools are held together and waterproofed with asphaltum.

Asphaltum coats the sinews that hold the point and feathers to the shaft of the arrow (at left and middle). The asphaltum protects the sinews from water and from wear-and-tear. The arrow is a special skip-bomb arrow used for shooting birds and animals in the water. The ring below the point prevents the arrow from diving underwater and makes it skim along the surface at the level of the prey. The ring is made of tule reeds held in place with asphaltum.

The knife (right) is made of a chipped stone blade set into a wooden handle with asphaltum.

Drawing by J. Spriggs from a photo by J. Garcia. From Onshore Oil and Gas Seeps in California.

Game Pieces Filled with Asphaltum

Photo of walnut-shell dice.

These are walnut-shell dice made by the Yokuts and used for gambling. Black walnut shells are filled with asphaltum and decorated with abalone shell chips or beads. The walnut shells become polished with use.

Photo by J. Spriggs, from Onshore Oil and Gas Seeps in California.

Drawing of Yokuts woman.Yokuts women throw the dice on a woven tray, or tiwon, in a game called Huutch Uish. Four players take turns throwing the dice, and the player with the highest roll wins.

Drawing by J. Spriggs from a photo by Frank Latta. From Onshore Oil and Gas Seeps in California.


California Oil and Gas Seeps Home

The “Natural Oil and Gas Seeps in California” project is a collaborative between the USGS and the California Department of Conservation

See also:

Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program

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Page Last Modified: 19 January 2011 (lzt)