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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Aspects of Prehistoric Wiyot Exchange and Social Ranking


Anthropologists have long been aware of the distinctive appearance of the culture of the Yurok, Karok, Hupa, Wiyot, and Tolowa Indians of northwestern California (Kroeber 1904, 1920,1922,1953:30). Although the ethnographic record attests to the elaborate ceremonial system operative throughout most of this area, we have as yet no firm grasp on how far back in time this system may have been in operation, nor any reasonably well documented information about the time depth for the social ranking and exchange relations which existed among these groups.

In order to bring new data to bear on some aspects of these anthropological concerns, obsidian artifacts associated with graves at the prehistoric Wiyot site of Dulawo't (CA-Hum- 67 on Gunther Island) were subjected to nondestructive X-ray fluorescence analysis to determine the geographical source of the raw material used in their manufacture. These prehistoric data, combined with brief sketches of the ceremonial system and obsidian sources, are consonant in part with observations derived from the ethnographic record although some new insights into the dimensions of social ranking are offered. It is suggested that the social, exchange, and ceremonial systems evident during the ethnographic period were in operation at Dulawo't by at least 600 years ago.

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