The Baja California peninsula remains one of the least studied archaeological regions of North America. Presently available evidence shows that the peninsula was first occupied by humans near the end of the last Ice Age or early in the post-Ice Age era. The first European explorers and settlers arrived in A.D. 1534. These included Hernan Cortés, conqueror of Mexico, who tried to establish a colony at the location of the present-day city of La Paz, Baja California Sur. By comparison to many other areas of North America, cultural developments between initial settlement and the coming of Europeans remains sketchy, owing to a lack of archaeological information. Construction of Spanish missions began in the late 1600s. Moving northward from the area of Loreto, a chain of missions eventually reached Alta California in 1769, founding the present-day city of San Diego. Eventually, 21 missions stretched from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay area. The archaeology of this early historical period also remains poorly known.

The lack of archaeological information about the project area stems to a large degree from the isolation of the peninsula in historic times. The first trans-peninsular road was completed in 1974. Before then, travel to many regions of the Baja peninsula was an arduous affair, involving horses or mule-drawn wagons or ships. During most of its history, peninsular Baja California was one of the most remote areas of North America. Only in the last two decades has mass-travel to vacation spots such as Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the peninsula, become a practical reality.

The two Mexican peninsular states of Baja California and Baja California Sur are perhaps the two most rapidly developing areas in all of Mexico. These changes inevitably are bringing severe impacts to the region's natural and cultural resources.

These circumstances shape three of the most important goals of the Californias Project:

  • To support research that will contribute a greater understanding of the region's pre-Hispanic and historical archaeological resources
  • To provide information that will assist with the preservation of the region's natural and cultural resources
  • To develop a corps of trained researchers to assist in these research and conservation efforts

Initial efforts in the project will focus on an archaeological site survey and excavation in the area of the Sierra La Laguna Biosphere Reserve, about 70 km south of La Paz. Excavation efforts will focus on La Piedra Pintada, an archaeological site that contains buried midden deposits and rock art.

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