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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 35, Issue 2, 2015

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

Native American Fisheries of the Northwestern California and Southwestern Oregon Coast: A Synthesis of Fish-Bone Data and Implications for Late Holocene Storage and Socio-Economic Organization

This paper presents a synthesis of fish-bone data from archaeological sites located in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California to further a better understanding of indigenous fishery use during the Late Holocene. The data reveal a focus on mass-harvested smelt (osmerids) at coastal sites in Humboldt Bay and Del Norte County. Other sites reveal an emphasis on small to medium intertidal fish (e.g., pricklebacks, greenling, rockfish, sculpin) and surfperch, likely taken on an encounter basis. We examine the archaeology of fish and the development of mass-harvest techniques, technology, and storage. We also address the importance of fine-fraction sampling as a means of better understanding Late Holocene coastal subsistence and socio-economic developments in the region.

Fish Remains as Indicators of Changes in Environment, Technology, and Sociopolitical Organization on Santa Cruz Island

Subsistence strategies of the hunter-gatherer-fishers who inhabited the Northern Channel Islands have included fishingsince at least 9,000 B.P. While there has been a steady increase of fish meat to the diet over this extended time period, there was a pronounced increase identified during the Middle and Late periods (2,600 – 200 B.P.). This increase occurred during a time of significant technological innovation, marked population growth, and expansive environmental stress. Recent data collected from numerous sites across the Northern Channel Islands have been critical in understanding the behavioral response to the significant environmental stress and cultural changes characteristic of the transition from the Middle Period to the Late Period on the Islands. We contribute to this growing body of data with an analysis of fish remains from CA-SCRI-195, a well-preserved site deposit on Santa Cruz Island that spans a 1,500-year time period inclusive of the Middle and Late periods. The data from CA-SCRI-195 suggest that evidence of environmental variation, technological development, and changes in sociopolitical organization can all be identified in the data and all uniquely contributed to subsistence changes identified at the site. The patterns of distribution and the trends apparent in the identified fish remains from this study are an important contribution to the larger goal of understanding developments in economic and sociopolitical organization on the Northern Channel Islands.

Fish Tales from the Ballona: The Role of Fish Along the Mainland Coast of Southern California

Using a robust data set from a series of Native American sites in the Los Angeles Basin, we explore whether these coastal settlements are best characterized as representing maritime or littoral adaptations. In doing so, we examine the range of food exploited, while focusing attention on the relative role of fish, marine mammals, and terrestrial mammals in these subsistence economies. We conclude that the uniformly low exploitation of marine mammals and fish—and deep sea fish in particular—in this coastal southern California setting and many others south of Malibu is due in large part to the rich terrestrial and littoral resources of the area. As such, these more readily available foods were consistently favored over the higher risk and labor investment strategy that typifies exploitation of offshore resources. We conclude with a broader consideration of differences and similarities between Los Angeles Basin adaptations and those in other settings within southern California.

 The Holocene History of Fish and Fisheries of the Upper Klamath Basin, Oregon

Historical and ethnographic records and ongoing cultural traditions highlight the importance of fishing to native peoples of the Upper Klamath Basin. Previous researchers have discussed the importance of fish to past people in the basin, but a systematic review of taxa and their abundance through time had not been closely considered until our study. We analyzed over 15,000 fish remains from six sites located above Upper Klamath Lake and obtained 11 new radiocarbon dates, which—in conjunction with previous records—suggest the fishery extends to ~5,300 cal B.P. Three fish families are represented in most time periods—suckers (Catostomidae), minnows (Cyprinidae), and salmon/trout (Salmonidae)—but suckers dominate. Their prominence, particularly large-bodied forms, is consistent with foraging models that rank this fish highly. Distinctive patterns in body-part representation are argued to reflect butchery linked to storage, rather than postdepositional destruction. The Holocene fish records suggest long-term stability in fishing practices.


 Taphonomic and Metric Evidence for Marrow and Grease Production

Wild-game carcass processing behaviors, including marrow extraction and grease rendering, are traditionally inferred from the nutritional utility of recovered elements. The expected survivorship of bones processed for within-bone fats, as well as the inverse relationship between density and grease utility, diminishes the power to infer these behaviors by element counts alone. The palimpsests of transport and butchery decisions as well as non-human site formation processes are revealed most clearly by taphonomic and metric analysis for carcass handling and density-mediated attrition. This article presents a means of inferring ruminant marrow and grease extraction by synthesizing lines of evidence for density and bone survivorship, selectivity of marrow-rich and greasy elements, presence of percussive impact marks and fractures to fresh bone, small specimen sizes, and high fragmentation rates.

 Exploring Patterns of Obsidian Conveyance in Baja California, Mexico

The X-ray fluorescence analysis of obsidian artifacts from four study areas in Baja California, Mexico, suggests regional and local patterning in the geological sources used by indigenous hunter-gatherers during the late prehistoric and colonial periods. Obsidian artifacts were typically made from materials from the closest geological source, creating a distinct north-south pattern of obsidian distribution. In the northern region of Baja California, this pattern appears to correspond to ethnographically-documented language boundaries. However, within each study area, particular sites exhibit higher degrees of obsidian source diversity than others—a pattern that may suggest chronological or social variation in access to particular obsidian sources. Unexpectedly, projectile points do not exhibit noticeably higher levels of source diversity when compared to an aggregate of all other obsidian artifacts. Together, these patterns offer a baseline of knowledge about regional obsidian distributions and point toward potential avenues for future research on obsidian availability and conveyance in Baja California.


 Energetic Return Rates from Limber Pine Seeds

Limber pine seeds were potentially a valuable food resource for native occupants of the high mountains of the intermountain west. The seeds are rich in fats and proteins, with a greater caloric content by weight than pinyon pine seeds. The seeds are available in late summer, and collecting them is fairly easy, yielding large returns per time spent collecting. If the seeds are eaten whole or ground into meal without hand-hulling, return rates are very high, similar to rates for large and small game animals. The kernels are difficult to remove from their hulls, however, resulting in very low return rates if hand-hulled. Energetic considerations indicate that whole or ground limber pine seeds could have served as an important storable late summer food for prehistoric highaltitude occupants.

 Rethinking the Antiquity of Bedrock Mortars on the Central California Coast

Previous assessments of the age of bedrock mortars (BRMs) on the central California coast have limited them to post cal A.D. 1250 contexts. Recent investigations from a single-component late Middle Period site with associated bedrock mortars (CA-SLO-5) on the San Luis Obispo coast, and the stratigraphic position of a bedrock mortar cup beneath dated midden residues at Swordfish Cave (CA-SBA-503) in northern Santa Barbara County, indicate that these features were used as early as 1,385 cal B.C. and that their overall age encompasses the late Early, Middle, Middle-Late Transition, and Late/Early Historic periods in this region.

 An AMS Radiocarbon Date from the Tank Site, CA-LAN-1, Topanga Canyon, California

This paper provides the first radiocarbon date from CA‑LAN-1, also known as the Tank Site. This important prehistoric site, long considered the “type site” for the Milling Stone Horizon (MSH), had never previously been radiocarbon dated. Some six decades after the site was first investigated, we provide the date and its specific context, its conventional and calibrated ages, and discuss the significance of this singular date to southern California prehistory.

 Lithic Technologies from Late Holocene Anacapa California: Local Reliance on Anayapax Chert

Lithic technologies have been an important part of Native American lifeways on California’s Channel Islands for more than 12,000 years. However, little is known about stone tool technologies on Anacapa, the second smallest and closest island to California’s mainland. To broaden our understanding of stone tool technologies on the Channel Islands and assess the availability of toolstone on Anacapa, we classified 859 lithic artifacts recovered from three ~3,000-year-old shell middens. Each artifact was classified by material, artifact type, and visually inspected for thermal damage. One hundred and forty three of the larger artifacts were examined using a glossmeter. Our results suggest that prehistoric Anacapa Islanders were heat-treating and using local Anayapax polychromatic green cherts and chalcedony to manufacture a variety of core and flake tools. Some of these cherts may overlap in color and quality with polychromatic cherts documented on eastern Santa Cruz Island, but the polychromatic green cherts appear to have been of local Anacapa origin. Our study sheds light on lithic resource use on Anacapa Island, demonstrates that cherts were available and procured on all the Northern Channel Islands, and adds to the growing challenges of identifying specific sources of chipped stone artifacts.