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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 20, Issue 2, 1998

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Culture Contact in Protohistoric California: Social Contexts of Native and European Encounters

There is great potential to address critical issues in contemporary culture contact studies through the study of the initial encounters (1542 to 1603} between natives and Europeans in California. Early exploration scholarship tends to focus on either the European ships and crews or the native communities they described, but rarely on the interactions between them. By reanalyzing the voyager accounts and relevant archaeological remains, one may evaluate how and why peoples from very different backgrounds responded to each other, and begin to examine the implications of early encounters with respect to cultural ideologies, ceremonial practices, gift giving, the meanings of foreign material culture, and disease. The purpose of this article is to consider four main issues underlying the social contexts of early encounters in California—the nature of initial contacts, the diverse responses observed, the role of material culture in early contacts, and the probability that lethal pathogens spread from these initial interactions. We find that religious practices played a critical role in structuring native and nonnative relations, and that the timing of encounters was very important, especially in relation to native and Christian ceremonial cycles. Furthermore, in considering the voyager chronicles and relevant archaeological remains, we question the conventional view, at least in California, that foreign goods were regarded as "merely trifles" by native peoples. Finally, we argue that early contacts with voyagers may have introduced lethal pathogens to coastal native populations, but that epidemics were probably geographically limited, sporadic, and short-lived.

The Constitution of Inequality in Yurok Society

Ethnographic accounts of the precontact Yurok of Northwest California serve as a test case for evaluating Jane Collier's (1988) recent models of the constitution of inequality in kin-based societies. This analysis does not support Collier's basic thesis that the nature of the relationship between husbands and their wives' kin determines the degree of social inequality. Nor does it support her contention that each of three contrastive models represents a particular type of society, since two of her three models apply to the Yurok case. However, Collier's models, treated as organizational themes rather than societal types, represent useful analytical tools for understanding the bases of inequality in Yurok society. In addition to the social structural relations explored by Collier, particular material circumstances and cosmological tenets established the contexts in which people negotiated the distribution of power, privilege, and prestige.

Harvesting the Littoral Landscape During the Late Holocene: New Perspectives from Northern San Diego County

For some time, an interpretation of coastal occupation in the San Diego area of southern California, herein termed the Coastal Decline Model, has held center stage despite limited and patchy empirical data. This reconstruction, based largely on the Batiquitos Lagoon fieldwork of the 1960s to 1980s, posits a major depopulation of the coast during the Late Holocene as estuarine subsistence productivity declined under the impact of rapid siltation. Recent investigations at nine shell midden sites along the coast of Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in the northern portion of this region challenge prior inferences. In this area, emerging trends in settlement and subsistence strategies suggest critical shifts took place during the Middle to Late Holocene. Specifically, three new results contradict key test implications of the Coastal Decline Model: (1) numerous coastal sites are now dated to the Late Holocene when marine transgression is thought to have "shut down" extensive coastal occupation; (2) Late Holocene sites are not typically smaller and/or more reflective of short-term or single season occupation than earlier sites; and (3) shellfish remain important to the coastal economy throughout the Holocene. It is argued that resource intensification played a major role in the continued occupation of this portion of coastal southern California.

Descriptive Analyses of Two Late Prehistoric Burials From Southwestern Idaho

Data relating to prehistoric human skeletal material from the northern cultural Great Basin are scant, especially for the period dating within the last 2,000 years. Recent discoveries of two separate prehistoric inhumations in southwestern Idaho resulted in professional data recovery efforts by the Idaho State Historical Society. The radiometric assessments of the remains place the date of the interments at approximately 900 and 1,300 years ago. Descriptions of each burial and associated artifacts serve as a baseline for future studies in human paleobiology in this region.


A Game String and Rabbit Stick Cache from Borrego Valley, San Diego County

This report describes a game string and rabbit stick discovered cached together in the Borrego Valley of San Diego County. Perforated ceramic discs forming parts of the game string inspire the speculation that similarly shaped objects, including the so-called "spindle whorls" recovered in coastal southern California sites, functioned as procurement technology. Experimental archaeology does not support the hypothesis that the game string, along with the attached discs, functioned as a bola. Ethnographic notes on game strings and curved throwing sticks are also presented.

Middle Holocene Ceramic Technology on the Southern California Coast: New Evidence from Little Harbor, Santa Catalina Island

A recently discovered collection of fired clay artifacts from the Little Harbor Site (CASCAI- 17) on Santa Catalina Island establishes that an indigenous ceramic craft had developed on the Channel Islands of Southern California by hunter-gatherer-fishers during the Middle Holocene, possibly as early as 5,000 years ago. This predates any influence from the Southwest and is coeval with the earliest ceramics discovered in the western hemisphere. The Little Harbor fired clay objects appear to be associated with a similar ceramic technology that is being revealed at some Southern California mainland coastal sites, especially in Orange and Riverside counties to the east. If so, the Little Harbor collection of fired clay artifacts supports the idea of a dynamic Middle Holocene socioeconomic interaction sphere connecting the southern Channel Islands and the mainland.


Gilreath and Hildebrandt: Prehistoric Use of the Coso Volcanic Field

Prehistoric Use of the Coso Volcanic Field. Amy J. Gilreath and William R. Hildebrandt. Berkeley: Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility No. 56, 1997, X + 202 pp., 12 maps, 26 figures, 9 plates, 87 tables, $25.95 (paper).

Holmes and Johnson: The Chumash and Their Predecessors: An Annotated Bibliography

The Chumash and Their Predecessors: An Annotated Bibliography. Compiled and annotated by Marie S. Holmes and John R. Johnson. Contributions in Anthropology No. 1, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 1998, xiv -I- 228 pp., 1 map, 3 indices, $32.50 (paper).

Ramenofsky and Steffen, eds.: Unit Issues in Archaeology: Measuring Time, Space, and Material

Unit Issues in Archaeology: Measuring Time, Space, and Material. Ann F. Ramenofsky and Anastasia Steffen, eds. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1998, 245 pp., 53 figs., 18 tables, index, $55.00 (hard cover), $25.00 (paper).