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Stevens N.E.,Far Western Anthropological Research Group Inc. | McElreath R.,University of California at Davis
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology | Year: 2015

The question investigated by this study is: how much behavioral specialization is necessary before tool specialization is worthwhile? The toolkits of hunter-gatherers vary considerably over space and through time from simple and multifunctional, to complex and specialized. The decision to use one tool over another can be modeled as a fairly straightforward consideration of costs and benefits, but the problem becomes more complex when individual tools are employed in multiple tasks. We introduce a formal model that helps explain when and why multi-use, or flexible tools, might outperform specific-use, or specialized tools, or vice versa. This model is used to help understand the adoption of mortars when acorns became a staple food in prehistoric California. The model suggests specialized tools win out when tasks they are designed for are performed often enough, or occur with enough certainty, to make their added cost worthwhile. © 2014 Elsevier Inc.

Anderson M.K.,U.S. Department of Agriculture | Rosenthal J.,Far Western Anthropological Research Group Inc
Journal of Ethnobiology | Year: 2015

Ethnographic interviews and historical literature reviews provide evidence that the nine ethno-linguistic groups inhabiting the foothill region of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada relied on a variety of plants and animals from chaparral communities to meet their material needs and deliberately burned the chaparral to maximize its ability to produce useful products. The reasons for burning in chaparral are grouped into six ecologically-based categories, each relying on a known response to fire of the chaparral flora, community, or landscape. The densities of people in the region were high, and villages needed large quantities of chaparral-derived materials with specific qualities to make many cultural objects. Because the majority of chaparral-occurring species used as cultural resources by Native groups required frequent fire in order to exist in sufficient quantity, or to be useful, fires caused by lightning strikes were likely insufficient to meet needs. The authors posit that tribes employed intentional burning to expand the availability, abundance, and diversity of plant materials necessary for foods, medicines, and critical technologies and that they collected plants and animals from across a mosaic of periodically burned chaparral stands at different stages of ecological succession. Overall the evidence suggests that the burning of chaparral, as a major strategy for economic intensification and extensification, altered the natural fire regimes of the foothills by expanding the burn season, shortening the fire-return interval in specific areas, and enhancing the abundance and density of species that suited specific cultural objectives. & copy; Society of Ethnobiology.

Whitaker A.R.,Far Western Anthropological Research Group Inc. | Byrd B.F.,Far Western Anthropological Research Group Inc.
Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology | Year: 2014

Shellfish eaten by hunter-gatherers, rather than being viewed as a monolithic food type, could more appropriately be divided into species that are more similar in behavior and reproductive biology to animals, and those that are more similar to plants, with the vast majority belonging to the latter category. We present the record of prehistoric gathering of two small shellfish species-bean clam (Donax gouldii) and California hornsnail (Cerithidea californica)-both of which follow a trajectory similar to plant remains in the archaeological record of California. We argue that Donax exploitation in southern California is tied to social circumscription, which led to increased settlement permanence and excluded some foragers from ready access to high-ranking lagoonal and rocky shore shellfish. Cerithidea were exploited throughout the Late Holocene in the Southern San Francisco Bay Area, but are found in varying abundances in regional assemblages. We argue that the inclusion of Cerithidea was not the result of diminishing populations of higher ranked oysters, but instead was part of a broader pattern of intensification driven by risk-averse foraging decisions, particularly by women with small children. Overall, this article reinforces the perspective that shifts in social interaction and demography are as important or more important in driving patterns of shellfish exploitation than biological and ecological processes. © 2014 Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Whitaker A.R.,Far Western Anthropological Research Group Inc | Rosenthal J.S.,Far Western Anthropological Research Group Inc | Wohlgemuth E.,Far Western Anthropological Research Group Inc
Vegetation History and Archaeobotany | Year: 2014

Pinus sabiniana Douglas ex D. Don (gray pine) is one of the dominant species in the ubiquitous Gray Pine-Blue Oak Woodland that rings the Great Central Valley of California. The species is absent, however, in a nearly 100 km section of the Sierra Nevada foothills between the Kings and Kaweah rivers. We test several previous explanations for this biogeographic gap, including prehistoric and historic anthropogenic burning, Early Holocene pluvial lakes as a migration barrier, and unique topography as a limiting factor. Through the examination of archaeobotanical and radiocarbon evidence, we find that gray pine distribution has been stable for the past 4,000 years and likely longer. Importantly, gray pine is absent in 44 of 45 individual samples from the Wahtoke Creek Site, the only archaeological site with archaeobotanical data within the modern distribution gap. This suggests that gray pine has been largely absent from the gap for over 6,000 years and refutes several previous explanations for the biogeographical gap. Instead, data support a topographical or ecological peculiarity of the gap rather than historic or prehistoric anthropogenic burning, or an Early Holocene migration of the species that was blocked by bodies of water in the Central Valley. © 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Whitaker A.R.,Far Western Anthropological Research Group Inc. | Byrd B.F.,Far Western Anthropological Research Group Inc.
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology | Year: 2012

Temporally and spatially discontinuous pulses of heavy prehistoric exploitation of red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) have been documented along the southern and central California coast. This article examines the very late (post-950. cal BP) appearance of numerous red abalone processing sites on the Monterey Peninsula in central California. We test three prominent explanations offered for the sudden onset of red abalone processing sites: trophic cascades resulting from human predation on sea otters, logistical foraging by inland residents, and changes in sea surface temperature. A trophic cascade appears to have occurred but does not fully explain the nature or timing of the phenomenon in the region. We present an alternative explanation that argues that intensive procurement of red abalone emerged at a time when both population pressure and social complexity increased greatly in central California. We argue that a new exploitation strategy-diving from boats-was employed to exploit a much larger portion of the red abalone habitat. This strategy entailed logistical forays by divers who worked new patches in tandem with boaters, gathered large quantities in a single foray, and then field processed them in bulk on the shore before transporting the meat to coastal residences. This strategy provided an additional source of food, and both tradable dried meat and numerous large shells that could be manufactured into ornaments and traded as decorative accoutrements. We conclude our discussion with a consideration of the factors that created such a discontinuous record of red abalone exploitation along the California coast. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.

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