Wealth, Productivity, Growth, and Globalization  

Part One:

Stone Age Economics in Bennett Valley

by Breck Parkman, retired California State Archaeologist

Bennett Valley is situated in what was considered ethnographic Southern Pomo territory, not far from an international border that separated three distinct cultural groups in late Pre-Contact (i.e., “prehistoric”) times. The Southern Pomo were a Hokan-speaking group who arrived in our area about 4,000 years ago, if not a bit earlier than that. To the east was an area controlled by the Wappo, the ancient Yukian-speaking tribe that inhabited most of Napa Valley and the headwaters of Sonoma Creek, beginning at least 8,000 years ago. To the south was the territory of the Penutian-speaking Coast Miwok, who arrived in the area not long after the Pomo. The Coast Miwok occupied the Sonoma Valley south of Glen Ellen, the Petaluma Valley, Bodega Bay, and all of Marin County. In addition to Bennett Valley, the Southern Pomo occupied a vast area of Sonoma County, including the Santa Rosa Plain. Although linguistically separate, these three tribes were culturally similar, in part due to the millennia they lived beside one another here in the North Bay.

Lumentakala is a prehistoric village site at the convergence of three cultures, in or near Bennett Valley. Barrett, 1908



While limited private ownership was practiced by all three of the tribes, most natural resources were communal property shared by the members of the tribe. And while certain individuals or families might improve their social standing through their learned craft, such as arrow or basket making, it was typically the community that acquired wealth based on access to desired natural resources. Obsidian is a good example of what I am talking about.


Obsidian, the natural volcanic glass that is common in our area, was once a prized commodity among Native communities. It was used to manufacture all kinds of cutting tools, knives, projectile points, scrapers, and drills. Obsidian is considered to be the sharpest natural material known. There are several obsidian sources in the North Coast Ranges, the largest of which are the ones known as Napa Valley, Annadel, Borax Lake, and Konocti. In Bennett Valley, we typically see obsidian from the Annadel and Napa Valley sources. The obsidian we find here was quarried at the source and brought to our area for the manufacture of stone tools. Much of what we see littering the surface of local archaeological sites is the debris that was left over from countless episodes of chipped-stone tool manufacture.


The Napa Valley obsidian source is located along the Silverado Trail near St. Helena in the Napa Valley. This source was controlled by the Wappo, and its proximity made the tribe very wealthy in aboriginal terms. Napa Valley obsidian was quarried for at least 12,000 years, beginning in the Paleoindian Period (c. 13,000 – 10,000 years ago), and it was traded widely throughout central California. The Annadel obsidian source is located within Annadel State Park, not far from Bennett Valley. 

Annadel obsidian projectile points



Museum curators and collectors around the world agree that the finest baskets ever made anywhere in the world were probably made right here in the northern San Francisco Bay area. They are often counted among the prized possessions of museums everywhere. While it is not clear just when basketry began as a craft in Native California, it was already widespread by 5,000 years ago, during the midst of the Archaic Period. Baskets were created for all kinds of purposes. There were storage baskets, carrying baskets, winnowing baskets, and hopper baskets. Some baskets were made as special gifts, and these gift baskets were often covered with colorful bird feathers and shell beads, and sometimes they were created in miniature. Many Native women wore baskets as hats. The basket hats bore intricate geometric designs which sometimes had deeper meaning. Certain of the baskets and regalia were more than inanimate things. This is especially true of the gift baskets. Today, I know more than a few Native people who routinely take their old family baskets - those that have been inherited from earlier generations - out of storage in order to feed and talk to them. These baskets are living things with a spirit all their own. They are cared for as if they were members of the family.

Pomo basket weaver       by Grace Hudson

California Indian baskets were so well made that some even held water. Water-tight baskets were used for cooking. In a nearby fire, a cook would heat rocks. Once the rocks were hot, they would be transported to the water-filled basket using wooden tongs. As the rocks cooled in the liquid, they would be removed, and new heated rocks would be substituted for them. In time, the transfer of heat from the rocks to the liquid would boil the water in the basket, thus cooking whatever food item was placed in it. After the rocks had been heated and cooled several times, they would begin to crack and break apart. At that point, they were discarded, and new rocks were collected from nearby creek beds. Over time, numerous fire-affected rocks were deposited in Native occupation sites. Today, these burned rocks represent items that archaeologists most often encounter when excavating local cultural deposits.


Obviously, the creation of basketry allowed Native cultures to become increasingly productive. Large amounts of natural resources, such as seaweed, acorns, and obsidian, could be transported great distances with relative ease. Once back at the village, Native peoples could easily store their supplies in large basketry containers. The ability to transport and store essential supplies created economic opportunities that eventually led to the creation of a resource banking system. The productivity of basketry thus resulted in Native societies that were themselves increasingly productive in a purely economic sense. What was equally important, though, was that these people were able to spend more time elaborating on their intellectual and art traditions, perhaps a defining trait of great civilizations, thanks in large part to their increased economic productivity.

NEXT Issue:  Growth and Globalization in prehistoric Bennett Valley. 

Stay tuned!