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Encounters at tamál-húye: An Archaeology of Intercultural Engagement in Sixteenth-Century Northern California


This dissertation explores an intercultural engagement and its material aftermath, as well as larger processes of culture change and continuity in sixteenth-century northern California. The starting points for the research are cross-cultural encounters between Tamal hunter-gatherers and English voyagers under Sir Francis Drake in 1579 and the Spanish crew from the shipwrecked Manila galleon San Agustín in 1595, which occurred in tamál-húye, the Coast Miwok-language name for present-day Drakes Bay, California. Archaeological evidence from extensive excavations around tamál-húye during the 1940s-1970s indicates that Tamal villagers took advantage of the body of introduced material culture from the San Agustín shipwreck by salvaging objects and incorporating them into their cultural practices. I utilize this body of existing archaeological data, and a historical anthropological approach incorporating multiple lines of evidence, to address two primary questions about the cross-cultural encounters at tamál-húye that have not been addressed in detail by previous researchers.

First, I evaluate how the Tamal people incorporated material culture from the shipwreck into their cultural practices by analyzing museum collections, archival excavation records and original field notes, and published reports from the earlier investigations, and by incorporating additional data from ethnography, historical documents, and native oral traditions. I recreate the excavations in a Geographic Information System (GIS) to analyze intra-site artifact and feature patterning, and I examine the correlation between distributions of sixteenth-century introduced objects and indigenously-manufactured items. Second, using a framework based on an "event-oriented" archaeology, I assess whether this short-term, pre-colonial event, and the material culture introduced as a result, was a source of long-term Tamal culture change. I investigate whether Tamal salvage and reuse of the ship's cargo, and incorporation of the introduced material culture into their daily lives, resulted in transformations to Tamal cultural practices.

My results suggest the Tamal people incorporated material culture from the San Agustin shipwreck in complex ways. Some porcelain fragments were modified into traditional artifacts such as bead blanks, pendants, bifaces, and other objects, while the large quantity of unmodified porcelain fragments may represent discarded by-products from the production of these and other objects. Overall, the ways in which the Tamal recontextualized sixteenth-century introduced objects were a complex combination of utilitarian and symbolic reuse.

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