Abalone shell ornaments recovered during the excavations at Séc-he reveal evidence of trade.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ETHAN KAMINSKY
In the heart of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation — near the intersection of North Indian Canyon Drive and East Tahquitz Canyon Way in downtown Palm Springs — is the ancient healing Hot Mineral Spring known as Séc-he. The sacred spring funnels 12,000-year-old water from a depth of 8,000 feet to the surface and has provided the Agua Caliente people with water for drinking, cooking, bathing, ceremony, and irrigation since time immemorial while also exerting a power to heal.
Although the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians honors Séc-he and its surrounding land through oral traditions that have been passed down for hundreds of generations, the ethnographic and archaeological record for this sacred site has remained sparse, with Tribal members and archaeologists being able to piece together only part of Séc-he’s story.
Abalone shell ornaments.
On July 3, 2018, a little less than two months into construction of the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza, cultural monitors on the site of this treasured natural resource discovered deeply buried Tribal artifacts, prompting the largest Indigenous archaeology excavation and data recovery in the state of California, and perhaps the world. The data recovery work revealed thousands of artifacts that doubled the archeological time scale of human habitation in the Coachella Valley and at the sacred site.
Projectile points used for hunting.
A new book, 8,000 Years: Unearthing the History of the Agua Caliente People at Séc-he, brings this momentous discovery and recovery — and the field of Indigenous archaeology — to life. This stunning volume showcases the dramatic findings of months of research; analysis of field notes and photographs; and interviews with cultural monitors, Tribal members, and archaeologists — all to chronicle and share the single largest archaeological excavation in the Coachella Valley.
Through beautiful photography and thoughtful writing, 8,000 Years showcases the Agua Caliente people, their land, and the role of Séc-he in Tribal history.
This story originally appeared in Me Yah Whae: The Magazine of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Fall/Winter 2023.