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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Changing Palates and Resources: Regional and Diachronic Trends in Plant Use in Prehistoric California


Despite considerable differences in plant communities across western California, the region’s hunter-gatherers often have been viewed as having a broadly similar plant resource orientation. The paper re-assesses this perspective by explicitly examining spatial and temporal variation in plant use west of the Sierra Nevada. In doing so, the study capitalizes on a growing body of paleoethnobotanical data to explore similarities and differences in plant food resource emphasis across six main regions in western California. Discussion emphasizes trends in the relative reliance on exploited resources, focusing on three main plant food groups—seeds, nuts, and geophytes—the ‘Sister Trilogy of California.’ The results provide an archaeological baseline to explore to what degree observed spatio-temporal patterns in plant use are primarily a function of resource distribution and density, and in what contexts social factors (such as investment in labor, risk assessment, population density, settlement organization, and cultural preference) play a more prominent role.

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