Maidu women and girls used tools to grind acorns into meal.
Maidu women and girls used tools to grind acorns into meal.

The Maidu, also known as the Nisenan, were among the original Native American inhabitants of California. They, like many other indigenous tribes, were migratory fishermen, hunters and gatherers. While men did the hunting, the women did the majority of food preparation. Acorns were a staple of the Maidu diet. Each adult may have consumed up to 2,000 lbs. of acorns a year. At age 10, girls would begin to assist the women with the processing of this important food source. Tools were essential for processing the acorns.

Hammer Stones

Maidu women collected the very best acorns by shaking oak tree branches. The acorns were stored for up to a year. Once the acorns were sufficiently dry, Maidu women and girls used small hammer stones to crack them open. Hammer stones made it easier to get to the nutmeat.

Stone Anvils

Stone anvils were essential to the work of the Maidu. They laid acorns on these flat, heavy stones and used hammer stones to crack open the nuts. Stone anvils are among the most frequently found relics of ancient California Indian culture.

Winnowing Baskets

Maidu women and girls used small scoop-shaped winnowing baskets to hold acorns that had been shelled. They then used their hands to remove the thin skin coatings. With the baskets, they tossed the acorns into the air, releasing the skins.

Pounding Tools

Maidu women and girls used milling stones, which were larger than hammer stones, to pound the acorns into meal. They also used a wooden or stone stick, called a pestle, and a rounded stone or wooden object, called a mortar, to make the acorn flour. Pounding acorns was hard work and these tools made it a little easier. Women and girls would spend entire days singing, laughing and telling stories as they worked.

Sifting Tools

After the women and girls pounded the acorns into meal, they sifted the meal into fine flour. They used three different baskets, and a soaproot brush, to do the sifting. With the soaproot brush, which was made from the fibers of the soaproot plant, they swept the fine flour away from the larger chunks of acorn that still required pounding.