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Prehistory: First Inhabitants
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California Early History
First Early Inhabitants of California
Early history examines the archaeological record that tells the story of the first inhabitants of California. Learn about the prehistory and culture of the first early inhabitants, and what lessons it might teach us about the early history of California.
California First Early Inhabitants Timeline
Early History of Native Americans in California
The Indigenous People of California
California's earliest inhabitants were Asians who traveled the Bering Strait into North America using a now-vanished land bridge. More than 10,000 years ago, they settled throughout the region's diverse geographic areas and climates. Deserts and high mountains helped to separate these groups, and they lived peacefully in relative isolation from one another. Over many years, distinctive differences in lifestyle and culture developed among these groups, which included the Hupa, the Maidu, the Pomo, the Modic, and the Mohave tribes. More than 135 language dialects emerged.
But Native Californians were not immune to Old World diseases. Smallpox, influenza, dysentery, malaria, measles, and syphilis spread from group to group. By 1848, such diseases had reduced California's native population by more than two-thirds. This catastrophic decline disrupted families, communities, and trading networks, weakening native resistance to Spanish, Mexican, and American intrusion.
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