Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 269-305

First online:

Detecting Apprentices and Innovators in the Archaeological Record: The Shell Bead-Making Industry of the Channel Islands

  • Jeanne E. ArnoldAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California Email author 

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Archaeologists have demonstrated that it is challenging but feasible to identify the material remains of apprenticing activities associated with stone tool and ceramic assemblages. Building on this work, I explore apprenticing behavior in North America’s most intensive ancient shellworking context, using the large bead-making assemblages from California's Channel Islands. I examine a spectrum of production errors associated with a newly identified variant of Olivella shell bead and offer generalizations about what we should find in the material record of apprentices engaged in manufacturing ornamental goods. I also explore how we may distinguish novices’ errors from the mistakes of skilled experts experimenting with new bead forms. Existing ethnoarchaeological studies of children’s roles and contemporary craft practitioners specializing in ceramics, bead making, stone work, and other materials are foundational sources of data for this project, providing insights into the transmission of technical information from experts to novices in communities of practice. Such work directly informs archaeological research and facilitates our understanding of apprenticing from periods and regions where ethnographic information is insufficient or inapplicable.


Apprenticing Specialized craft production Communities of practice Bead-making assemblages Learning Skills