Cultural Dimensions of Toolstone Variability in the Santa Barbara Channel Region, California

Author(s): Scott Sunell

Year: 2018


The Santa Barbara Channel region of southern California lacks reliable sources of high quality toolstone except in a few prominent locations. The nearest obsidian sources are hundreds of miles away, and local chert can be highly variable in quality and availability. Monterey chert, common to both the northern Channel Islands and the adjacent mainland, varies widely in terms of inclusions, color, and consistency; Franciscan chert from the mainland is similarly troublesome for tool-makers on a large scale. In spite of this, the Chumash and their ancestors utilized these materials for more than 10 millennia to manufacture finely worked bifaces; late in prehistory they also developed sophisticated specialized microlithic tools for shell bead production. Most research in the region has focused on these craft products while omitting the critical role played by widely available but poor quality toolstone. I evaluate the use of low quality local materials in this context, arguing that patterns of lithic production on Santa Cruz Island responded more strongly to cultural norms than to the functional properties of specific toolstones. While the intrinsic properties of given materials may have set the stage for later innovations, by the first millennium AD chert was more than just good stone.

Cite this Record

Cultural Dimensions of Toolstone Variability in the Santa Barbara Channel Region, California. Scott Sunell. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 442937)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -124.189; min lat: 31.803 ; max long: -105.469; max lat: 43.58 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 20918