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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Prehistoric Exploitation of Albatross on the Southern California Channel Islands


Archaeological excavations in coastal California and on the offshore Channel Islands customarily produce scant evidence of the prehistoric presence or cultural use of the three species of albatross that visit the area. However, recent investigations on San Clemente Island reveal dense concentrations of two species of albatross that are dated to a narrow Middle Holocene time period. At nearby San Nicolas Island, a similar concentration of the same two species was dated later in the Holocene. This report describes these unique avian archaeofaunas and suggests that concentrations of the remains of these birds in an area where they are rarely recovered may reflect attempts by immigrant birds to colonize the Channel Islands. The vulnerability of breeding albatrosses to intense predation by early hunter-gatherers is also discussed.

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