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Peek Into the Past

06/29/2012 10:21AM ● Published by Style

Photos by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group.

Throughout our entire region, if you look closely enough, you can find signs – from petroglyph carvings in rocks to grinding mortars – of an ancient civilization.

The hard part is learning how to recognize the work of a culture that was once nearly extinct. Thanks to scores of people assisting over many decades, modern residents of Roseville and beyond can now gain a better understanding of the ancient cultures of native peoples.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Maidu Museum and Historic Site, located in central Roseville, is a prehistoric site and an exceptional place to learn about the early inhabitants of our area. Senior Supervisor Mark Murphy explains, “We have a world-class museum tucked away in this lovely neighborhood.” The excellent exhibits and 50-plus dedicated volunteer docents help visitors understand the native people, their lifestyle, how it was taken away, and the culture’s resurgence. What better place to learn about the area’s first human inhabitants?

Roseville and the surrounding Sacramento Valley and Foothills were home to the Southern Maidu or Nisenan Indians. The Nisenan lived in the area peacefully for thousands of years where they farmed and lived off the fertile land to provide for their families – feasting on acorn meal bread, local edible plants, insects, fish and wildlife; weaving baskets; growing tobacco; and lovingly tending to the Earth.

In the mid-1800s, however, their idyllic lifestyle came to an abrupt end, “in one lifetime – just 60 years,” says Rick Adams, Nisenan descendant and the museum’s cultural consultant. At the time, federal and state governmental forces were determined to eradicate the native inhabitants. “It was a cultural collision and only one culture survived,” Adams explains. The harsh treatment of the Indians caused death, destruction and despair; their culture was nearly forgotten.

In 1935, new Roseville resident Myron Zents recognized the prehistoric signs of life and culture on the site and worked tirelessly to preserve it, gather funds for an interpretive center, and gave walking tours to help educate locals on the importance of the area. Fast forward to 2000. The museum first opened in temporary buildings, and a decade later the permanent building welcomed visitors with exhibits, an art gallery and more. “There is a huge gap in our public school system’s teaching of indigenous local history,” Adams says. “Our museum and tours help children get a better understanding of how different cultures affect the land.”

Along with the 10,000-square-foot museum, there’s also a 3/4-mile trail meandering through the historic site where you can view rock art that’s thousands of years old and imagine village life by gazing at the 300-plus bedrock mortars. The museum offers many fun and educational programs for the public, including guided tours, nighttime lantern tours, classroom outreach, cultural heritage speakers, and a variety of youth nature camps and campfires.


Visit roseville.ca.us/indianmuseum for more information.

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