Our Chumash Life pages for teachers and students provide a basic introduction to some aspects of traditional daily life. Our anthropologists answer questions about cultural anthropology, the history of Native Californians, ethnobotany, Native art, traditional tools, and technology.

Who were the Oak Grove people?

I recall years ago hearing that there were people living in this area prior to the Chumash. The name I recall for these earlier people was "Oak Grove" people. However, a search of the web using that phrase turned up nothing. Is that designation no longer accepted?

Wes Chapin, Somis, CA - February 16, 2021

Curator Response

Hi Wes,

If you're the Wes Chapin I'm thinking of, I believe we worked together on several interpretive projects at Painted Cave and La Purisima Mission State Historic Park! I hope you're doing well. Thanks for reaching out to us with your question.

"Oak Grove" is part of the cultural terminology developed by David Banks Rogers. His terms are no longer used. Instead archaeologists refer to the culture pattern he called “Oak Grove” as either the Millingstone Horizon, the Initial Early Period, or the Early Holocene, depending on the author. That cultural manifestation dates perhaps as early as 9,000 or 10,000 BP* to about 6500 years ago (some date it to 5000 years ago).

As to the connection between this culture and the Chumash, we don’t really know if the first people in our region were direct ancestors of the people that came to be called the Chumash. We do know that Native Americans have been in our region for at least 13,000 years, and genetic evidence suggests that Chumash Indians descend in part from an ancient migration that peopled the western margin of the North and South American continents. There is no way of knowing, of course, whether people as far back as 5,000 years ago spoke a proto-Chumash language. Linguists say that determining whether a language family extends further back than 5,000 years is a futile undertaking. Probably Chumash Indians descended from earlier peoples in this area (the genetics indicate this), but that is the most we can say.

Best wishes,

Curator of Anthropology John R. Johnson, Ph.D.

*BP = "Before Present" is a time scale mostly used by archaeologists and geologists. The "present" refered to is the advent of radiocarbon dating around 1950.