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Prehistoric Seafaring

The tomol of the Chumash and tiíat of the Gabrielinos were wooden plank canoes, 25-26 feet long, weighing about 350 pounds, and able to carry up to 4,000 pounds in cargo and passengers. Maneuvered by double ended paddles, these tar-caulked canoes were held together with deer or plant fibre sinew linking small holes in each plank to the adjoining planks. The Brotherhood of the Canoe organization were responsible in the Chumash villages for building, maintaining and steering these ingenious crafts.

" The tomol impressed the early Spaniards enormously ; " The expertness and skill of these Indians is unsurpassed in the construction of their canoes ... they fasten the boards firmly together, making holes at equal distance apart, one inch from the edge, matching each other in the upper and lower boards, and through these holes they pass stout thongs of deer sinews. They pitch and caulk the seams, and paint the whole with bright colors. They handle them with equal skill, and three or four men go out to sea to fish in them .... They use long double oars, and row with indescribable agility and swiftness " (Costanso in Roberts and Shackelton 1983 ). By all accounts these vessels were swift, maneuverable, handy in surf, and generally seaworthy.

Employed for fishing and travel between the islands and the mainland, tomols were a key technological element in Chumash culture. Correspondingly, the construction and use of the tomol figured in a web of social, economic, and religious relationships that pervaded Chumash society.

The tomol was not the only watercraft utilized by the Chumash; they also employed three and five-bundle tule balsas and dugout canoes. The Chumash typically launched these craft only in lagoons and other sheltered waters, although ( anthropological evidence suggests ) that tule boats did make cross-channel trips . " From the Submerged Cultural Resources Assessment ( SCRA )


It was not only the large European sailing ships that were wary of the Channelís waters. " Because of the Channelís winds and weather and numerous sinkings, the Indians timed their crossings carefully. When traveling to the islands from the mainland, the Indians avoided trips directly across the Channel. They followed a route that hugged the mainland coast until they reached what is now Port Hueneme, the mainland point closest to the Islands. They then paddled to Anacapa Island, a distance of 12 miles, and reached the other islands by traveling west. " ( This navigational history is from Shipwrecks, Smugglers and Maritime History, 1984 )

" Because large trees for production of dugout canoes are scarce in the Chumash area, the use of the abundant redwood, pine and Douglas for driftwood to produce an edge-sewn plank canoe seems to have been an environmentally conditioned pattern. Archeologists have recovered fragments of tomols from sites on San Nicholas Island...and on Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island, and Catalina Island, all from late contexts. Nothing like a complete example has been reported. Such a find would be extremely important and useful, even if from a relatively small boat." (SCRA )