Background to Prehistory of the Yuha Desert Region


The Yuha inventory area as defined by the Bureau of Land Management includes two subareas. To the north it is dominated by San Felipe Creek draining out of the Lower Borrego Valley into the Salton Sink. The broad San Felipe drainage is flanked on the north by the San Felipe Hills, and on the south by the Fish Creek Mountains, the Superstition Hills and Superstition Mountain. The southern portion centers on Yuha Wash and the Yuha Basin, but includes the Coyote Mountains and the southeastern flanks of the Peninsular Range.

The Yuha Desert lies in the southwestern portion of the arid Salton Sea Basin of California. Archaeologically, the Yuha is little known, and any reconstruction of its prehistory must rely heavily on comparisons with other parts of the California desert and inferences of human adaptations to the differing environmental conditions that are known to have occurred there within the span of Holocene time. The Yuha Desert region has at times been partially inundated by freshwater Lake Cahuilla, the shore of which provided a marked contrast to the aridity and sparse food resources which characterize the region today. It is probably that in times when the lake existed, human populations occupied its shore and also foraged in the adjacent desert. In very late prehistoric and early historic time, the Yuha Desert lay between the territories of the gatherers and cultivators of Imperial Valley and the Diegueños of the Peninsular Mountains, and was a region across which persons, goods, and ideas passed, but within which aboriginal settlements were few.

This report begins with a section treating the environmental history of the area as a backdrop for its history and prehistory, pointing out the questions that need be answered if we are to understand man's interaction with his environment in the Yuha area. We travel back through the ethnographic and ethnohistoric periods, searching for clues to the prehistoric period. We have pieced together the outlines of a prehistoric sequence for the area by discussing the history of archaeological research and known museum collections. We then discuss the future of Yuha archaeology, the threats to it as a resource, its potential for science and for the public. We introduce a model for the subsistence-settlement system of the hunters and collectors living in the area of such a rich but fickle resource as Lake Cahuilla. When fully expanded, this model could comprise an encompassing research design to guide regional archaeological inventory and research. And finally, we discuss the quality of our present knowledge of archaeological site locations in the Yuha inventory area.

David L. Weide contributed a chapter entitled "Regional Environmental History of the Yuha Desert Region."

Harry W. Lawton contributed a chapter entitled "An Ethnohistory of the Yuha Desert (1796-1865)."

The Staff of Imperial Valley College Museum contributed an appendix entitled "Type and Distribution of Archaeologic Sites in the Yuha Basin Study Area of Western Imperial County."

Cite this Record

Background to Prehistory of the Yuha Desert Region. Margaret L. Weide, James P. Barker, Harry W. Lawton, David L. Welde, Staff of Imperial Valley College Museum, Philip J. Wilke. 1974 ( tDAR id: 191268) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8X34WNH

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections


Spatial Coverage

min long: -116.139; min lat: 32.577 ; max long: -115.554; max lat: 33.285 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Repository(s): Imperial Valley College Museum

Submitted To(s): Bureau of Land Management, California Desert District, CA

Record Identifiers

BLM California Desert Office(s): Contract No. 52500-CT4-296 (N)

NADB document id number(s): 1040006

NADB citation id number(s): 000000012471


General Note: Contract No. 52500-CT4-296 (N)

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