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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Coastal Foraging at Otter Cave: A 6600-Year-Old Shell Midden on San Miguel Island, California


Test excavations at a small rock shelter near Otter Point on San Miguel Island produced an assemblage of well-preserved artifacts and faunal remains from buried midden deposits dated to approximately 6600 years ago. Along with an unusual assemblage of 40 Dentalium shell artifacts, faunal remains from Otter Cave (CA-SMI-605) provide valuable information on the nature of San Miguel Island environments and the adaptations of its maritime peoples during the early Middle Holocene. Here we summarize the context, chronology, nature, and implications of the Otter Cave materials. Shellfish from rocky intertidal habitats (turban snails, mussels, owl limpets, etc.) dominate the faunal assemblage, but fishing and marine mammal hunting also contributed to the subsistence of the cave occupants. We also discuss the Otter Cave data in the context of a long sequence of shell midden strata at Otter Point that span much of the past 7500 years, as well as general models for the evolution of maritime adaptations in the Santa Barbara Channel region.

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