Indigenous Cultures In Rancho Bernardo

Hidden In Plain Sight
Uncovering the Secrets of Indigenous Cultures

An ancient culture is hidden in plain sight in many parts of Rancho Bernardo.

Amid the homes, condos, and asphalt streets it’s possible to find a boulder painted by a human hand millennia ago: an image in red against the grey rock depicting a unique and elaborate maze.

This photograph shows a section of a Pictograph placed in the Rancho Bernardo area by the Kumeyaay tribe between 500 and 1,000 years ago. Pictographs were created to mark sacred areas commemorating initiation into adulthood or recall spirit helpers for healing. The distinctive Red Ochre color (shown in this picture) was mined and traded throughout California, and the Black color is from charcoal derived from the burning of local woods. The Kumeyaay added fixers/stabilizers to each color to give the pictograph a lasting quality.

In parts of our neighborhood it’s not at all unusual to have clusters of large boulders and/or small rocks in one’s backyard or nearby on one’s block. Many of those rocks however, are more than just rocks shaped by eons of wind, rain, or other natural elements. Look a little closer and you might see a bowl-shaped indentation in the center of a rock. That indentation might feel very smooth to the touch, in contrast to the rough surface around it. This tells you that you may be looking at a grinding rock, used by indigenous people for grinding acorns, spices and other food items less than 200 years ago. The landscape of today’s Rancho Bernardo is dotted with clusters of these metates—portable stone mortars, and morteros—stationary bedrock milling sites, evidence of a robust and industrious culture.

The painted images, metates and morteros reflect the fact that the community we today call Rancho Bernardo has been continuously inhabited by native peoples for well over 25,000 years before European settlers arrived. These original inhabitants called themselves Kumeyaay.

The ancient Kumeyaay speak an ancient language. Modern Kumeyaay persist and survive in the face of social, physical, and at times literally genocidal oppression, and have managed to keep their oral traditions and culture alive. This living heritage, along with the efforts of supportive historians, archaeologists and other physical and social scientists, provides a picture of indigenous life in our community long before Europeans arrived.