, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 173-211

Waterfowl and Lunate Crescents in Western North America: The Archaeology of the Pacific Flyway

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Abstract

California and Great Basin archaeologists have long discussed and debated the function of chipped stone crescents found in Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene sites in the Far West of North America. Because they are found over a vast area, in sites occupied over a period spanning at least 4,000 years (~12,000–8,000 cal BP), it may be that crescents were used for a variety of purposes. Here we focus on lunate crescents and their strong association with wetland localities (lakes, marshes, estuaries, and islands). We reconsider whether crescents could have been used as transverse projectile points to hunt waterfowl. We also assess the biogeographical legacies of migrating birds to propose that as many as four species of large anatids (tundra swan, greater white-fronted goose, snow goose, Ross’s goose) that now breed in the Canadian High Arctic once bred in the Great Basin and adjacent regions during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene. We propose that crescents were used primarily in the taking or processing of geese and swans, some of which may have bred and molted in what are now temperate latitudes. After the Laurentide ice sheet retreated, these four species established High Arctic breeding grounds and no longer bred in the Great Basin. In this scenario, the absence of some populations of molting geese and swans helps explain why crescents fell out of the archaeological record after ~8,000 cal. BP. When crescents were used, Native Americans in the Far West may have had access to millions of large waterfowl.