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Antelope Valley Native American Peoples

The Late Prehistoric Period


The native clans who lived in the San Bernardino Mountains and its foothills to the north, south, east, and west were called Serranos by the Spanish. The Serranos also lived along the northern slopes of the San Gabriel range at least as far west as Big Rock Creek. The Spanish term Serrano meant "mountain people." The Serranos called themselves Takhtam or "people.”

Domed dwelling or shelter
Like other native culture groups living in coastal and interior southern California, the Serrano shared cultural traits and a common language, but not a single paramount chief or ruler. The villages and village chiefs who were found among the Serrano, as among other groups, were politically independent, and did not have to answer to a central authority. Village chiefs did participate in alliances and cooperation with other communities, however. Each large winter village and its surrounding territory, ruled by an independent religious and political chief, was occupied by a clan comprised of families related in the male line.

Rock art, Little Petroglyph Canyon
The Serrano had a system of marriage in which all clan villages were affiliated with either the Coyote or the Wildcat ceremonial division. People from villages belonging to one division had to marry only people belonging to the other division. The women usually left their own home village to live at their husband's village. A man or woman could not marry anyone from his or her own village, since these people were considered relatives.

The Serrano held important ceremonies, celebrations, and fiestas in the early winter months. The foodstuffs stored up from late summer and autumn gathering were still abundant. At the same time, people were freed from gathering activities during winter, with the exception of some hunting, and had time on their hands for social activities. Mourning ceremonies, held periodically to honor recently deceased villagers, brought people from villages far and wide to attend the fiesta. During these ceremonies food and gifts were exchanged, and ritual singing and dancing went on for days on end.

The Serrano cremated their dead, rather than burying them, as some other neighboring groups did. However, the practice of burning the possessions of the dead as offerings was shared by the Serrano and many other groups in southern California.

The Serrano were hunters and gatherers, like other groups in the region, but many clan villages on the mountain slopes had very abundant supplies of live oak acorns. They could maintain clan villages of up to 150 people or more. The total population of the Serrano at the time of the Spanish occupation of California may have been 2500 to 3500 or higher.

Antelope Valley Native American Peoples
The Late Prehistoric Period << Previous

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