Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about the prehistoric people who occupied the Ramona Valley for thousands of years. The author, Richard L. Carrico, is a Ramona resident and a well-known archaeologist/historian.
The story of the prehistoric people of the Ramona Valley is a long and complex tale.
In general, the prehistoric periods of San Diego County are divided into three phases. The San Dieguito were nomadic hunters of medium and large game who lived in the area between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago. They manufactured elaborate stone spear points and knives and occupied the deep inland valleys.
The next cultural group is called the La Jollan and they take their name from the numerous camp sites on the bluffs near La Jolla. These people were focused on fish and shellfish from the Pacific Ocean and on the nuts, seeds, and berries from inland valleys. Their ability to manage the environment served them well from 8,000 years ago to about 3,000 years before present. While not as common in the Ramona Valley as on the coastal plains, sites from this period have been found near Capitan Grande, around the Ramona airport, and in eastern Poway. The milling tools (manos and metates) and bedrock milling features that dot our valleys echo the people of the La Jolla culture.
Beginning sometime around 2,000 years ago, an abrupt change in the tools types and apparent cultural patterns occurred in San Diego County. Perhaps in reaction to a warming climate, tribes from the eastern deserts gradually moved west into our region. No doubt related to the people of the La Jollan culture, these new people brought pottery, the bow and arrow, and other technological advances to our area. Unlike previous cultures, these people lived in large permanent villages, made extensive use of acorns, and cremated their dead. Called Diegueños by the Spaniards, these people of Ramona Valley call themselves Ipai while their southern cousins are Tipai and Kumeyaay.
Large Ipai villages extended over the flat grasslands and valley of the Ramona, San Pasqual, and Ballena Valleys. The largest was Pa’mu, also called Pamo, and was occupied from more than 2,000 years ago to the Spanish period in the early 1800s when the village was relocated into what is now Pamo Valley. While the exact meaning is uncertain, Pa’mu is believed to mean “place of rest or a type of shrub.” Other nearby villages included Pawaii (Poway) meaning “place of convergence or arrowhead” and ‘Ellykwanan (Santa Ysabel) meaning “small mound made by a mole.”
An extensive trail system linked the villages and later became pioneer trails and roads. Mussey Grade Road, Old Julian Highway, Black Canyon Road, and the old County road near Rangeland were all well worn when the Spaniards arrived in our valley. On an even larger scale, trade with distant tribes was conducted via old Highway 395, Highway 79 through the Cuyamacas, San Pasqual Valley Road, and Highway 79 north to Warner’s Hot Springs. The Ipai traded for obsidian, a black volcanic rock from the Imperial Desert and from Coso Hot Springs; for shells from the Gulf of California, and for ceramic objects from the Phoenix area.
Within the Ramona region, archaeologists have recorded more than 200 prehistoric sites. These sites include villages and campsites. The most unique sites are the numerous rock paintings, pictographs, that dot the landscape including painted rocks in Kimball Valley and near Ballena Valley. Dating back more than 500 years, these painted panels from the past depict frets, diamond chains, circles, and other geometric forms. While mystery still shrouds their function, anthropologists have suggested that some of the paintings are associated with girls’ puberty rites while others were painted by shamen (holy men) as part of their rituals.
For the Ipai and their southern cousins the Kumeyaay and Tipai, our valleys and hills are the location of places of mystery and sacredness. Mount Woodson is known as ‘Ewiiykaakap—“Moon Mountain,” Ballena Valley was Emat-‘ehpank, the “Whale Place,” and Witch Creek was Kuttap-kuseyay, “a source of bewitched water.” The Cuyamaca Mountains to our east are ‘Ekwiiyemak, “behind the clouds.”
Want to know more about the prehistory of our valley? We are fortunate to have three important interpretive centers within a few miles of town. The Barona Cultural Museum, one of the few California Indian museums on an Indian reservation, is near the casino and houses a world class collection of prehistoric artifacts and cultural items from contemporary Barona tribal members. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 5 p.m.
The San Diego Archaeological Center is in San Pasqual Valley just east of the Wild Animal Park. The center, which is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, is the repository for the thousands of artifacts excavated as a result of environmental compliance.
Even closer to home, the Kumeyaay/Ipai Interpretive Center is just off Poway Road and, in addition to displays of artifacts, allows the visitor to take a short hike into the past on marked trails within an ancient Ipai village. The center is open only on Saturdays from 9 to 11:30 a.m., but appointments may be made for tour groups or classes.