March 4, 2011

California islands' settlement confirms coastal colonization of America

The finding of three settlements in Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands off the coast of California confirms a sea-oriented cultural context of the first settlers of America, including clear coastal navigation capabilities, as they must have crossed nothing less than 10 km of open sea to reach the island.

The peoples, who inhabited the island some 12,000 years ago, at the end of the Ice Age, also had technology that seems oriented to the exploitation of the marine resources, with a highly refined kind of workmanship, very different in any case to that of better known Clovis and Folsom cultures from the North American interior.

In spite of the fact that much of the places where these peoples lived are now underwater, the archaeologists were able to document the exploitation of varied sea resources. The quite unique crescent-shaped arrow projectiles, a special design for bird hunting, had been documented without context before in continental coasts but never in such amounts nor associated to so many bird bones.

Also, until now no reliable dates existed.

California Channel Islands locator (Wikimedia Commons)

Source: Science Daily (another version of the same story can be read at BBC, including a more complete photo of the toolkit).


12 comments:

  1. I was going to post that it must have been much less than 10km at the time - but it seems you are right, that seems to be the width of the "channel" (that sits much lower then the continental shelf).

    How did they use these crescents for (bird) hunting? It looks almost like something you would throw, rather than shoot, and something heavy enough to perhaps bring a bird down just by sheer weight.

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  2. I took the measure from the SD article, which is usually a direct copy of the official press release.

    "How did they use these crescents for (bird) hunting?"

    I really do not know. I know that in other cultures, trapezoidal or crescent arrow heads have been used for that purpose but I always found hard to figure out why. Maybe it is that a wider head more likely hits a flying bird than a point?

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  3. Look for instance this collection of Japanese arrowheads that includes several with such broad design.

    Also this commercial sites offering crescent-shaped arrowheads, explains:

    "Used as a hunting head and not for cutting ropes as some people think, machine made head"...

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  4. "The peoples, who inhabited the island some 12,000 years ago, at the end of the Ice Age, also had technology that seems oriented to the exploitation of the marine resources"

    Maju, would you mind checking for me when the mammoths became extinct on those islands.

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  5. "Maju, would you mind checking for me when the mammoths became extinct on those islands".

    I should admit that I already knew the answer:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmy_mammoth

    From the link:

    "Remains of M. exilis have been discovered on three of the northern Channel Islands of California since 1856: Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel"

    And:

    "The late Pleistocene elephant may have lived on the islands until the arrival of the Chumash people during the early Holocene, between 10,800 and 11,300 years ago".

    Now seems likely they may have died out a little before that time.

    Another link:

    http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2006AM/finalprogram/abstract_115096.htm

    Quote:

    "Radiocarbon dating indicates the presence of pygmy mammoths for more than 47,000 years (near the upper limit of radiocarbon dating) until the arrival of humans on the islands about 11,000 radiocarbon years ago. To date, no actual kill sites or processing areas have been recognized. However the human remains from Arlington Springs, Santa Rosa Island, and pygmy mammoth remains from nearby Garanon Canyon, Santa Rosa Island indicate presence of extant island mammoths at the time of arrival of pioneering human populations".

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  6. Actually, the four northern Channel Islands during the last ice age were one, not all that small island (~30 x 100 km)..

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  7. Like Biscay or so, I see. Something a (Paleolithic) human can cross in a single day (or a few, if taking it easy) by just walking.

    Alright, I stand corrected but my point is still valid: they are not comparable at all with the North American or the Eurasian mainlands, what is what Terry means. ;)

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  8. My guess is that the channel that spearates the Channel Islands from Los Angeles is a rift associated with a tectonic fault line. I wonder how much, if any, that it has widened in 12,000 years from continental drift, and ocean clearance of debris as opposed to changing sea levels.

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  9. "Islands, tiny islands!"

    And not settled by Neolithic people. And by an amazing coincidence mammoths on those tiny islands died out at almost the same time as did the mammoths on the tiny island of North America. Not to mention the tiny island of Eurasia.

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  10. Andrew Oh-Willeke:
    "My guess is that the channel that spearates the Channel Islands from Los Angeles is a rift associated with a tectonic fault line. I wonder how much, if any, that it has widened in 12,000 years from continental drift, and ocean clearance of debris as opposed to changing sea levels."

    Would certainly be interesting to have a geologist on board - but I think sea level and current forces are here to blame, not tectonics in the past 16,000 - 12,000 years. There are several interesting features now buried under the see, but visible even in google maps:

    1. much of NA's west coast has a smooth, "consolidated" coastal shelf ("CCS") that has ~ the same height, everywhere - thus likely roughly indicating LGM see levels

    2. below that, the actual continental shelf extends many tens of km to a few 100 km, but is often quite rugged and not smooth, at all

    3. in some areas, there are underwater land slides from the CCS (e.g. off Santa Barbara)

    4. in many areas, there are canyons starting from the edge of the CCS and going to lower elevations (e.g., off Lompoc and Vandenberg) - without sufficient surface drainage areas to explain the required huge water flows

    Especially from 4. above, I would think that wild level fluctuations around the Younger Dryas (roughly the time of the fossil finds) created brief intervals of flooded, flat, brackish marshlands and sudden drainage. So, my guess is that this CCS level still sits somewhat higher than the lowest glacial levels, to account for these canyons.

    With that, the channel between the mainland and the island could have been as narrow as a few kilometers, or so. Or, if it was subsequently eroded by the prevalent sea currents from the south, the channel at one point may have actually been dry land.

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  11. "I think sea level and current forces are here to blame, not tectonics in the past 16,000 - 12,000 years".

    I think there is no doublt that the settlers arrived by boat. What I find interesting is that, the although the dwarf mammoths were easily exterminated on those small islands, they died out there at almost exactly the same time as did mammoths on the mainland, and even in Northern Eurasia. Of course all sorts of desperate excuses are concocted as to why humans couldn't have caused their extinction anywhere but on those small islands.

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