This collection is the result of the vast Civil Works Administration program under the supervision of the Smithsonian Institution. During the winter of 1933-1934, the Tulamniu C.W.A. Project SLF-76 excavated a group of large shell mounds near Taft, California, in the upper San Joaquin valley. The site had previously been located and tentatively identified as the village site of Tulamniu, "the place of the Tulamni, or Tule dwellers." The Tulamni were one of the lake tribes of Yokuts first visited in 1772 by Spaniards. Because the excavation would require the labor of a large force of men for a considerable period of time, it was a desirable location for the archaeological project allotted to the BAE in California, according to Winslow Walker's report.
More than 4000 artifacts and hundreds of Indian burials were excavated at the site of the Yokut Indian village near Taft, California, in 1933-34. Dr. William Duncan Strong, of the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE), headed the Tulamniu C.W.A. Project SLF-73 with Winslow Walker, also of the BAE, as assistant director. The excavations were one of a number of archaeological projects organized and financed by the Civil Works Administration as a means of reducing unemployment. Artifacts and skeletal materials were shipped to the United States National Museum for study after completion of the field work.
Work began December 20, 1933 under the direction of Dr. William Duncan Strong, assisted by Winslow M. Walker. Two trained California archaeologists, W. R. Wedel, from the University of California, and E. F. Walker of the Southwest Museum, assisted. The staff was augmented by technicians and graduate students: Engineer-Surveyor Lew Suverkrop; Supervising Foremen P. L. Stanley and H. I. McGrath; Photographer F. M. Boyd; Accountant-Timekeeper N. E. Taussig; Technicians Phillip Drucker, G. H. Denkel, H. E. Driver, Hans Fischel, H. G. Barnett, Paul McGrew, Milton O'Rourke, and M. P. Smith. Employment as laborers was given to about 175 unemployed men from the Taft region of Kern County. Large scale operations made possible the examination of two shell mounds on the slope of the hills at the western side of Buena Vista Lake and the uncovering of two large burial places on the hilltops just behind the mounds.
By combining the methods of trenching, screening and clearing large areas horizontally, a good idea of the internal structure and contents of the mounds was obtained. They had been used not only as places on which to build huts, but also as middens and burial spots. The mounds, more than 1000 feet long, 150 wide, and about 10 feet thick, were the result of accumulations of large amounts of shell, sand loam, ash and camp debris over long periods of occupation, perhaps conditioned by the rise and fall of the lake waters.
The burial hilltops yielded a large number of mortuary objects, including finely chipped flint points, knives, bone awls, shell beads and pendants. The bodies in these cemeteries had been buried in the flexed position, wrapped in soft woven fiber, and in some instances also encased in tule mats.
The picture in general is that of a primitive hunting and fishing people who had presumably followed up the course of the San Joaquin from the San Francisco Bay region and settled many hundreds of years ago around Buena Vista Lake.