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Re-evaluating the Marginality of California's Islands: Implications for Archaeological Interpretation

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

Compared to the mainland, the islands off the Pacific coast of Alta and Baja California have long been considered marginal habitat for ancient hunter-gatherers. Marine and terrestrial island ecosystems were changed considerably, however, by severe overgrazing and overfishing during historic times, and are only beginning to recover under modern management practices (removal of grazing animals, etc.). The perception of marginality has greatly influenced our interpretation of a variety of archaeological issues including the antiquity of first settlement; productivity of island floras, freshwater, and mineral resources; human population density; and the nature of regional exchange networks. Recent advances in archaeological and historical ecological research, combined with field observations of recovering ecosystems suggest the islands may not have been the marginal habitats they once appeared to be. While older models developed through the perspective of island marginality may hold true, it is important to reconsider our interpretations of past and present archaeological data, and re-evaluate long-held assumptions, given these new insights. Ultimately, a reexamination of the effects of perceived marginality on the history of archaeological interpretations on California's islands may have broad implications for other island archipelagos worldwide.


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  • Documents (14)

Documents

  • The Assumption of Insular Marginality: The Curious Case of Isla Cedros, Baja California (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    What about islands inspires us to think of them as places on ‘the edge?’ The idea of an island is often more remote than the reality. The word itself conjures up notions of loneliness and isolation. Some islands are inextricably linked, to other islands and/or the adjacent mainland, while the nonpareil isolation of Rapa Nui is legendary. Lying off the Pacific Coast of Baja California, Isla Cedros presents a strange combination of these factors. The island supported a large resident...

  • Calories, Canoes, and Cross-Channel Trade: Exploring the Efficiency of Maritime Subsistence Exchange (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    The exchange of botanical subsistence resources such as nuts and seeds is well documented in ethnohistoric accounts of Chumash trade across the Santa Barbara Channel. But on what scale was such exchange carried out? Due to the perceived marginality of island environments, it has long been assumed that the need to import subsistence goods from the mainland to the islands was a central instigator for cross-channel exchange. Recent research, however, has shown that the islands were...

  • Defining Marginality Under Shifting Baselines: Historical Transformations of California’s Channel Island Ecosystems (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Spanish arrival to California’s Channel Islands in AD 1542 marked the beginning of widespread ecological changes for island land and seascapes. Over the next several centuries, the Chumash and Tongva were removed to mainland towns and missions, sea otters were extirpated from local waters, commercial fisheries and ranching operations developed, and a variety of new domesticated plants and animals were introduced. The ecological fallout was both swift and extensive, resulting in new terrestrial...

  • The Distribution and Chronology of Abalone Middens on the California Channel Islands (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    The California Channel Islands contain one of the most productive coastlines in the world. Despite the perceived marginality of available resources on the islands, they encompass approximately 428 linear kilometers of rocky and sandy bottom habitats that have abundant shellfish beds. Thousands of shell middens dated to the past 12,000 years attest to the importance of these resources to native islanders. In this paper, we define the ecology and biogeography of intertidal shellfish communities...

  • Fishing and Ecological Resilience on California’s Channel Islands (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    On California's Channel Islands, the Chumash and Tongva relied on a relatively consistent repertoire of small and medium-bodied fish species over a period of more than 10,000 years. Throughout all time periods, the majority of fishes in the archaeological record could have been procured from the near shore waters of rocky intertidal, sandy beach, and kelp forest habitats. There is also limited evidence for offshore fishing for large pelagic fish later in time. I argue that the significant...

  • Freshwater Availability and Prehistoric Settlement Patterns on California’s Northern Channel Islands (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    An important variable that influenced prehistoric human settlement patterns on California’s northern Channel Islands was the availability of freshwater. Existing models of settlement use watershed size as a proxy for water availability. However, in semi-arid regions, this approach has limitations because ephemeral streams common in these environments may lose much or all of their flow to groundwater. We have developed a hydrological model that incorporates measured and modeled...

  • Gathering Evidence: Terrestrial Plant Resources of California’s Islands (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    The abundance and diversity of terrestrial plant resources on the islands off the Pacific coast of southern Alta and Baja California vary in terms of island biogeographic distribution, ranging from pine forests and oak/juniper woodlands, to chaparral, cactus scrub and grassland habitats, among others. These plant resources provided food, medicine, and raw materials for island populations. However, island plant resources have long been described in the literature as "depauperate," an idea based...

  • Household Archaeology on the Northern Channel Islands of the Santa Barbara Coast, California (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    House depressions are visible at many archaeological sites on the Northern Channel Islands, including some that are thousands of years old, yet household archaeology is a topic that is often overlooked in the region. Documenting the number, size, location, and layout of house depressions can help in understanding past settlement strategies, access to resources, the emergence of cultural complexity, demography, cultural landscapes, environmental change, and craft specialization, among other...

  • Importation of deer bone to the Channel Islands, California, during the Middle Holocene (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Although California mule deer never inhabited the Channel Islands during prehistoric times, deer limb bone fragments commonly occur at Channel Islands sites dated to the Middle Holocene, and fragments of worked deer bone also occur. In addition, mortuary collections obtained in the 1920s dating to the Middle Holocene contain artifacts of deer bone, including ornaments and hair pins. We summarize the evidence of deer bone importation to the Channel Islands and argue that the abundance of deer...

  • It Takes a Village: Mainland and Channel Islands Population (Labor) Resources through Time (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    This presentation traces population estimates of the Chumash peoples on both sides of the Santa Barbara Channel through several thousand years, examining how researchers have arrived at those estimates and where possible suggesting how we might need to adjust both some of our assumptions and some of the outcomes. This review should be useful in further examining other phenomena such as sizes of labor forces available for the intensive Channel Islands specialized craft production industries...

  • Making Ancient Birds Sing: Avian Archaeology on the California Channel Islands. (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Terrestrial and marine environments of the California Channel Islands harbor a wide array of residential birds and provide breeding grounds and layovers for migratory species. Avian remains have been uncovered in paleontological and archaeological contexts, providing a long and continuous record of their presence. Although some species have persisted, others have disappeared at various points in time due to extinctions or alterations in migratory pathways. Though avian remains contain abundant...

  • Perishable but not forgotten: the potential use of seaweeds on California's Channel Islands (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    California’s Channel Islands are surrounded by some of the most extensive and productive kelp forests on the planet with nearshore environments containing more than 100 species of edible seaweeds. Archaeological deposits testify to the use of kelp forests by native islanders, but there has been little discussion of seaweeds as a food resource. Ethnohistoric evidence that Channel Islanders consumed seaweeds is limited,but accounts of islander foodways in general are minimal. Ethnographic and...

  • Toolstone Sources off the Pacific Coast of Alta California: Implications for Evaluating the Marginality of Islands through Space and Time (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Except for major sources of chalcedonic chert on eastern Santa Cruz and soapstone on Santa Catalina, the islands off the Pacific Coast of Alta California were long thought to be impoverished in high-quality materials for making stone tools. As a result, cherts and other toolstones could have been a major source of trade between islanders and mainlanders. We summarize the distribution of known lithic resources on the islands, documenting numerous chert types on the Northern Channel Islands and...

  • Why Did Paleocoastal People Settle California’s Islands? (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT

    Islands have long been viewed as marginal habitats compared to mainland regions where terrestrial resources are generally more abundant and diverse. We examine this concept of island marginality by reviewing evidence for Paleocoastal settlement of islands off the Pacific Coast of Alta and Baja California. If the islands were marginal, we should expect human settlement to occur relatively late in time and early use of the islands to be sporadic and specialized. For the Northern Channel Islands...

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America