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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 35, Issue 1, 2015

Front Cover

Front Matter and Table of Contents

Special Feature Articles: Aboriginal Fishing in California and The Great Basin

 Some Thoughts on Great Basin Fisheries

A review of Great Basin fish biology, aboriginal fishing technologies, and archaeological evidence for the use of fish reveals that (1) only four genera of fish were significantly exploited; (2) fishing was more widespread than previously appreciated; (3) the use of fish increased substantially in late prehistory, with sometimes locally significant consequences for settlement patterns, social organization, and other behaviors; yet (4) fishing remained of limited economic importance in all but perhaps a few places.

Late Holocene Anthropogenic Depression of Sturgeon in San Francisco Bay, California

Prehistoric resource depression has been widely documented in many late Holocene contexts characterized by expanding human population densities, and has been causally linked to a wide range of other significant changes in human behavior and biology. Some of the more detailed records of this phenomenon have been derived from the San Francisco Bay area of California, including a possible case of anthropogenic sturgeon depression, but evidence for the latter was derived from limited fish-bone samples. We synthesize and analyze a massive ichthyoarchaeological data set here, including over 83,000 identified fish specimens from 30 site components in the central San Francisco Bay, to further test this hypothesis. Allometric live weight relationships from selected elements are established to reconstruct size change in white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) through time, and—collectively—the data show significant linear declines over the last 3,000 years in the relative abundance of sturgeon compared to all other identified fishes, as well as declines in the maximum and mean weights of the harvested fish. Both these patterns are consistent with resource depression and do not appear to be related to changes in the estuarine paleoenvironment. Variation in sturgeon abundances also declines through time, in a pattern that reflects the single local source of this resource. These data have implications for both late Holocene regional human settlement systems and modern management of sturgeon populations, which are among the most imperiled animal populations on earth.

Differential Decomposition May Contribute to the Abundance of Sacramento Perch (Archoplites interruptus) in the Archaeological Record of California

Consistent with previous archaeological studies, Sacramento perch (Archoplites interruptus) represented the greatest proportion of native fish remains among the nearly 49,000 elements identified in five large Central Valley freshwater samples (CA-SAC-15/H, CA-CCO-548, -647, -767, and CA-SJO-3) when individual species are considered. Further, we provide evidence that there is a bias in California’s zooarchaelogical record that may be due in part to differential decomposition rather than the fishing habits of native peoples. Distinctive skeletal features of the single sunfish species (Centrarchidae) in this assemblage also may account for the elevated numbers of Sacramento perch. Representatives of Centrarchidae and Cyprinidae were buried for over seven years and the remains then excavated and assessed for decomposition. We further discuss issues in which either locally abundant fishes are not represented as expected or the ethnographic record appears to be at odds with the California archaeological record.

Preservation, Politics, Productivity, or Preference: Considering Fish Remains from Southern San Joaquin Valley/Emigdiano Sites

Interpreting fish remains from sites in the Emigdiano Chumash/southern San Joaquin Valley region is complicated by the diverse set of forces involved in their procurement, use, deposition, and preservation, particularly during the Mission period, when some people from coastal communities made their way to the interior. This paper compares the fish remains from two sites in San Emigdio Canyon with distinct occupational histories (CA-KER-188H and CA-KER-6789). Within these assemblages there is a diachronic shift in the most abundant fish species from Sacramento blackfish (Orthodon microlepidotus) to Sacramento perch (Archoplites interruptus) during the later precolonial and Mission periods. This change is evaluated within this particular cultural and historical context with reference to multiple possible causal factors: taphonomy, environmental change, access to fish or fishing locations, and preference based on taste.

The Native American Fishery of Cedros Island, Baja California, and a Comparison with the Fisheries of the Islands of the Southern California Bight

We report the identification of nearly 4,000 fish bones from archaeological sites on Cedros Island, Baja California, Mexico, that range in age from approximately 10,010 cal B.C. to 1630 cal A.D. Wrasses were the most represented group of fishes, followed closely by sea basses, tilefishes, and croakers. Of the individual species identified, ocean whitefish, California sheephead, and white croaker were the most abundant. Comparisons to fishes from modern surveys and to fishes specific to particular marine habitats suggest that the diversity of fishes was very similar to that found today, and are most closely associated with kelp bed/rocky reefs and nearshore soft-bottom areas. We also compare the Cedros Island archaeological fishes to those from archaeological excavations on islands of the Southern California Bight. We infer that the fishery of the native peoples of Cedros Island and other California islands was primarily inshore in predictable locations.


Native Persistence: Marriage, Social Structure, Political Leadership, and Intertribal Relations at Mission Dolores, 1777–1800

Scholarship on California Indians prior to and during the Spanish colonial period suffers from a lack of understanding of the social structure of California Indians, especially in regards to social status. In this systematic analysis of the social structure of California Indians, I examine the relationships among marriage, social status, political leadership, and intertribal alliances during colonization. After incorporation into Mission Dolores, Spanish alterations to native life, such as Catholic marriage restrictions and the Spanish caste system, had only a minor impact upon native social structure. Indian elites continued to marry other elites and thereby preserved traditional status distinctions, political authority, and intertribal alliances after incorporation into Mission Dolores. As a result, California Indians at Mission Dolores maintained social and political continuity during Spanish colonization.

Obsidian Hydration Rates for Select Sources in the Eastern Great Basin and the Archaic Occupation of Northern Utah

Northern Utah and southern Idaho have numerous sources of obsidian (e.g., Browns Bench, American Falls, Malad, and Wildcat Hills). This article describes a replicable technique for creating regional obsidian hydration chronologies and applies it to prehistoric artifacts recovered during data recovery along the Ruby Pipeline route, which extends eastwest across northern Utah. The method uses regionally-sampled hydration thicknesses to determine a source-specific quadratic equation that is separate from any project-specific data. The estimated hydration rate strongly agrees with radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence dates from excavations as well as with common projectile point typologies. The hydration rates, when applied to data from northern Utah, suggest that persistent occupation occurred in the area during the Early Archaic at roughly 8,400 cal B.P.

 Evaluating the Stratigraphic and Chronological Integrity of the Last Supper Cave Deposits

Located in northwestern Nevada, Last Supper Cave was tested in 1968 and fully excavated in 1973 –1974 under the direction of Thomas Layton. The site revealed a long sequence of human occupation, including a Paleoindian component initially dated to ~9,000 – 8,000 radiocarbon years ago (B.P.). In 2008, a hearth from the lowest deposits returned an AMS date of 10,280 ± 40 B.P., suggesting that initial occupation occurred during the latest Pleistocene, over a millennium earlier than initially believed. Here we present the results of further AMS dating of the Last Supper Cave deposits and an analysis of the vertical distribution of time-sensitive projectile points in order to evaluate the site’s stratigraphic integrity. Results indicate that while some portions of the deposits were mixed, others appear to have been relatively intact, and materials recovered from them hold great potential for future research.

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