Journal of Archaeological Research

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 1-73

First online:

The Archaeology of California

  • Jeanne E. ArnoldAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of California
  • , Michael R. WalshAffiliated withCotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California
  • , Sandra E. HollimonAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of California

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Stimulated by several important, recent empirical advances, California archaeologists are engaged in a series of lively debates. These advances include new discoveries about the early peopling of western North America and sustained occupation of the California coasts as early as 12–13,000 BP. There also have been significant new developments in the role of paleoenvironmental change in cultural evolution, the emergence of long-distance interaction spheres, the presence of intensive craft specializations, and the appearance of sociopolitically complex hunter–gatherers. This article addresses these issues—and several others—with a view to the general interests of scholars worldwide. The exceptional heterogeneity of California ecosystems (from deserts to dense redwood forests to bountiful offshore islands) and the remarkable cultural diversity exhibited by the dozens of major groups who made these lands their home combine to produce a complex indigenous sociopolitical picture. Current understandings reveal myriad trajectories of cultural change across nine major subregions of the state.

California prehistory hunter–gatherers peopling of the Americas paleoenvironments craft specialization sociopolitical complexity multiethnic societies foraging theory