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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.

Mortar stone bowl?

I found this stone bowl shortly after the recent storms near Haskells Beach area.  The bowl was among several large rocks that are not normally seen.  

The bowl perfectly balanced upright has two groves on top and two perfect round holes that go right through the bowl on the opposite side.  

Could this be an artifact and if so how old could it potentially be?

Emma, Montecito - February 1, 2023

Curator Response

Hi Emma,

All sorts of interesting items get exposed at low tide after storms! Thank you for sharing this mortar to Ask a Curator.

Mortars like this one were used continuously by the Chumash and their neighbors for at least 5,000 years, right up through the Mission Period. While some kinds of mortars are more distinctive, the shape and material of this mortar don't give us any clues to determine when it was made or used.

It looks like the sea has also worn down the mortar. We can’t tell clearly from the photos, but the holes make have been made by boring clams.

We hope you left the mortar in place so it can remain part of that unique area. As we’ve noted in other responses, there are legal, ethical, and scientific reasons to leave artifacts in place, especially on public lands.

Stay curious,

Curator of Anthropology John R. Johnson, Ph.D., and Associate Curator of Anthropology Brian Barbier, M.A.