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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Obsidian Acquisition and Exchange Networks: A Diachronic Perspective on Households in the Owens Valley

  • Author(s): Eerkens, Jelmer W.
  • Spurling, Amy M.
  • et al.

The last 2,000 years of prehistory in the southern Owens Valley of eastern California witnessed major changes in human subsistence, settlement, and technology. Using a household perspective, we test the hypothesis that these societies became increasingly focused on the nuclear and/or extended family as the basic economic unit. To this end, we examine patterns in the acquisition of exotic materials, especially obsidian and marine-shell beads, in relationship to other locally produced artifact categories. Results show (1) an increasing geochemical diversity in obsidian and an increasing density of non-local beads, indicating increased and geographically wider trading activities through time; (2) an increasing heterogeneity between household units in terms of access to non-local obsidian after 650 B.R, indicating differential access to exchange networks; and (3) a correlation between house size and obsidian diversity after 650 B.R, suggesting that larger domestic units differentially participated in the movement of exotic goods. These findings support the notion that households, as basic economic units, were increasingly focused on internal subsistence and exchange pursuits, rather than village- or communal-level activities, and that exotic material goods became increasingly privatized over time in association with the privatization of subsistence resources.

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