California Islands Give Up Evidence of Early Seafaring

Researchers uncover numerous artifacts at late Pleistocene sites on the Channel Islands.


"This combination of unique hunting technologies found with marine mammal and migratory waterfowl bones provides a very different picture of the Channel Islands than what we know today, and indicates very early and diverse maritime life ways and foraging practices," Rick said. "What is so interesting is that not only do the data we have document some of the earliest marine mammal and bird exploitation in North America, but they show that very early on New World coastal peoples were hunting such animals and birds with sophisticated technologies that appear to have been refined for life in coastal and aquatic habitats."

The stemmed points found on the Channel Islands range from tiny to large, probably indicating that they were used for hunting a variety of animals.

"We think the crescents were used as transverse projectile points, probably for hunting birds. Their broad stone tips, when attached to a dart shaft provided a stone age shotgun-approach to hunting birds in flight," Erlandson said. "These are very distinctive artifacts, hundreds of which have been found on the Channel Islands over the years, but rarely in a stratified context," he added. Often considered to be between 8,000 and 10,000 years old in California, "we now have crescents between 11,000 and 12,000 years old, some of them associated with thousands of bird bones."

The next challenge, Erlandson and Rick noted, is to find even older archaeological sites on the Channel Islands, which might prove that a coastal migration contributed to the initial peopling of the Americas, now thought to have occurred two to three millennia earlier.

The 13 co-authors on the study with Erlandson and Rick were: Todd J. Braje, professor of anthropology at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif.; UO anthropology professors Douglas J. Kennett and Madonna L. Moss; Brian Fulfrost of the geography department of San Francisco State University; Daniel A. Guthrie of the Joint Science Department, Claremont McKenna, Scripps and Pitzer Colleges of Claremont, Calif.; Leslie Reeder, anthropology department of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas; Craig Skinner of the Northwest Research Obsidian Studies Laboratory in Corvallis, Ore.; Jack Watts of Kellogg College at Oxford University, United Kingdom; and UO graduate students Molly Casperson, Nicholas Jew, Brendan Culleton, Tracy Garcia and Lauren Willis.

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