Reviewer Mag (reviewer_rob) wrote in archaeostudents,
Reviewer Mag

the common metate

Stone Age Cuisinart

Pictured below is an American Indian metate.

A bit of background: It was picked up in 1975 by a railroad weed survey employee who was working in Sorrento Valley, just east of Torrey Pines State Beach, in San Diego County. At the time he was checking for "exotic" or non-native grasses that might have sprouted along the tracks from seeds that fall off railroad cars. It's a job that he said was paid for by tax dollars so I guess it might not exist anymore. In 1975 the population of San Diego was a fraction of what it is today, and the land rush that Proposition 13 started in 1980 hadn't been imagined by more than the most visionary of community planners. In 1980 both Carroll Canyon Road and Black Mountain Road were unpaved and we'd drive down them to go surfing in La Jolla or Del Mar, passing places like this metate spot all the time.

Anyways, he was with a group of people from work doing a job, the guy who found this metate, and he saw it sitting off by itself "in a wash" near where Panasquitos Canyon empties out onto the tidal flats. It was when Interstate 805 was just being finished, and he said there were still some old windmills there built by homesteaders in the 1860s after California had become a state, but they had been abandoned shortly after being erected due to drought. There were also some now vary rare wild walnut trees nearby. This metate belongs to me now but the former owner said that there were grinding holes in the vicinity (the type in large semi-submerged boulders), and I've read on the internet that there's different uses for those too. Perhaps the women had these mobile stones for washing flour with water, although this one's rather heavy to transport over long distances.

Here's a Mapquest page of near the exact spot he described it as being found:

I not sure why I'm sharing this info with you, dear readers. Like me you probably have a busy life, one full of exciting events and ambitious hopes. Just yesterday you might have watched Tiger Woods on TV win the US Open at the Torrey Pines golf course a couple of miles away from this location. Thousands of people pass by this site every hour during a normal day on the 5 and 805 freeway overpasses that merge above it. But down there it sits, the pastoral nexus of coastal valley and seasonal streams where generations of humans had used it continuously until the mid 1800s when the socio-demographic climate began to change and they moved on to greener meadows. Afterwards this metate must have sat untouched in the same spot for at least 100 years, perhaps totally unnoticed, until someone came by and ascribed enough significance to it again. Today's descendants of the hands that ground Torrey pinon nuts, acorns from Live Oaks and walnuts on this granite milling device are doing pretty well for themselves all things considering since the casinos have brought them enough money to afford electric cuisinarts.

I wonder a lot of things about this example of prehistoric kitchen technology. Like how long did it take to carve out that trough used as the grinding bowl? That's a hard-ass piece of granite... And where did they get it? Was it unearthed from a local granite outcropping or did its manufacturer import it from the hills inland where there's more of this stone to be found? Is it possible to determine how old it is, maybe from local tribal knowledge of the history of the area? And who were these people? What sort of society did they have? Why did they leave all of a sudden? Was it a type of military action that drove them out or were they brought to task under the rule of the Catholic Missions?

I'll look into these questions more later, but for now I'm content to occasionally glance at this metate in its place on my counter-top next to my stove. And I smile when I see it because it's a reminder to me of our shared nomadic heritage. Because, no matter who you are descended from, be it English royalty, gypsies, samurai, Scandinavian vikings, Zulu tribesmen or whoever, somewhere back there in the misty bogs of antiquity you had a grandmother who toiled upon a stone not unlike this one.


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