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From Pleistocene Mariners to Complex Hunter-Gatherers: The Archaeology of the California Channel Islands

Abstract

California’s Channel Islands were home to some of the most distinctive Native American peoples along the Pacific Coast. Never connected to the mainland during the Quaternary, the Channel Islands have an impoverished terrestrial flora and fauna, but some of the richest and most productive marine environments in the Americas, including diverse kelp forest, intertidal, and offshore marine habitats. Native Americans occupied the Channel Islands for roughly 13,000 calendar years until the early nineteenth century, providing one of the longest and best preserved records of maritime hunter-gatherers in the Americas. We provide an overview and analysis of Channel Islands archaeology, from the relatively mobile peoples who colonized the islands during the Late Pleistocene to the complex hunter-gatherers documented by early Spanish explorers. Our analysis demonstrates the importance of Channel Islands archaeology for enhancing knowledge on a number of broad anthropological issues, including coastal and aquatic adaptations, seafaring, cultural complexity, trade and exchange, and ancient human impacts on the environment.

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Acknowledgments

We are indebted to a number of colleagues for shaping our thinking on Channel Islands archaeology, including Jeanne Arnold, Julie Bernard, Roger Colten, Bob DeLong, Jim Estes, Lynn Gamble, Mike Glassow, Anthony Graesch, Mike Graham, Dan Guthrie, Sandra Hollimon, John Johnson, Doug Kennett, Pat Lambert, Pat Martz, Don Morris, Ann Munns, Anna Noah, Peter Paige, Jenn Perry, Scott Pletka, Judith Porcasi, Mark Raab, Steve Schwartz, John Sharp, Pandora Snethkamp, Phil Walker, and Andy Yatsko. For our research on the Northern Channel Islands, we are indebted to Bob DeLong, Ann Huston, Georganna Hawley, Kelly Minas, Don Morris, Steve Schwartz, Mark Senning, and Ian Williams. We also thank Pat Martz, Steve Schwartz and Lisa Thomas-Barnett for facilitating research on San Nicolas Island. Judy Cooper helped prepare Figures 2 and 3. Finally, we thank Angela E. Close, anonymous reviewers, and the editorial staff of the Journal of World Prehistory for help in the revision and production of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Torben C. Rick.

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Rick, T.C., Erlandson, J.M., Vellanoweth, R.L. et al. From Pleistocene Mariners to Complex Hunter-Gatherers: The Archaeology of the California Channel Islands. J World Prehist 19, 169–228 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10963-006-9004-x

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Keywords

  • Channel Islands
  • California
  • Pacific Coast
  • Cultural complexity
  • Coastal adaptations
  • Shell middens
  • Seafaring