Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 293–303 | Cite as

Oxygen isotope analysis of California mussel shells: seasonality and human sedentism at an 8,200-year-old shell midden on Santa Rosa Island, California

  • Nicholas P. JewEmail author
  • Jon M. Erlandson
  • Torben C. Rick
  • Leslie Reeder-Myers
Original Paper


To evaluate coastal settlement and land use strategies among maritime hunter-gatherers, we analyzed oxygen isotope (δ18O) data from 131 marine carbonate samples from 21 California mussel (Mytilus californianus) shells obtained from a large ∼8,200-year-old shell midden (CA-SRI-666) on California’s Santa Rosa Island. Seasonal distributions of the isotopic data were assigned using a paleo-sea surface temperature model created by comparing modern sea surface temperatures (SST) to a fully profiled ∼8,200-year-old shell. For 20 additional shells, we used two sampling strategies to compare season-of-harvest inferences and explore whether the Early Holocene site occupants were sedentary. Estimated season-of-harvest differed by 35 % between the two sampling methods, corroborating recent isotope analysis of an 8,800-year-old shell midden on San Miguel Island. Shellfish appear to have been collected year-round at CA-SRI-666 from intertidal or subtidal water temperatures similar to modern SST in the vicinity of eastern Santa Rosa Island. The isotope results are consistent with other evidence from CA-SRI-666 that suggest that the site served as a residential base for relatively sedentary maritime people.


Shellfish Mytilus californianus Northern Channel Islands Early Holocene Human mobility 



The research design for stable isotope analysis was conducted by the senior author, in consultation with Brendan Culleton, Douglas Kennett, and Jack Watts. Our research was supported by the National Science Foundation (#0917677 to Erlandson and Rick and #1212418 to Erlandson and Jew), Channel Islands National Park (ARPA Permit PWR-1979-09-CA-04), and our home institutions. We thank Frances White for help with our statistical analyses and the editor and reviewers of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences for help with the review, revision, and production of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas P. Jew
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jon M. Erlandson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Torben C. Rick
    • 3
  • Leslie Reeder-Myers
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  2. 2.Museum of Natural & Cultural HistoryUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  3. 3.Program in Human Ecology and Archaeobiology, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologySouthern Methodist UniversityDallasUSA

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