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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Relative Importance of Lacustrine and Estuarine Resources to Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Populations: A View from Southern Santa Clara Valley, California


Data from excavations at five sites in southern Santa Clara Valley provide several interesting insights regarding the relative importance of lacustrine and estuarine resources to prehistoric hunter-gatherer populations. The sites are located 20 to 26 km. inland from the saltwater estuary of Elkhorn Slough, but only between 0.3 and 9.0 km. from San Felipe Lake and its adjacent marshlands. Essentially ignoring the local lacustrine-marshland resource base, early populations (ca. 4,200 to 2,500 B. P.) employed a mobile subsistence-settlement strategy that included transport of estuarine resources (largely bay mussel) to interior residential bases located far from Elkhorn Slough but relatively close to San Felipe Lake. This general adaptation continued until ca. 1,000 B.P., when a simultaneous increase in population density and territoriality appears to have restricted access to Elkhorn Slough, forcing interior populations to move their settlements closer to San Felipe Lake and intensify their use of the local lacustrine resource base.

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