Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The development of intensive foraging systems in northwestern California
by Tushingham, Shannon, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2009, 351; 3379635
Abstract (Summary)

Salmon figures prominently in the anthropological literature as providing the economic foundation of many north Pacific hunter-gatherer social institutions. In California, acorns play a similar role. Although the central role of these dietary staples is attested to in northwestern California ethnography, how and why this may have differed in the past is poorly understood.

This dissertation research asks, when and why do intensive foraging systems focused on salmon fishing and acorn processing emerge in northwestern California, what is the temporal trajectory of this development, and how do these events relate to the development of similar systems in other areas of the Pacific Northwest Coast and California? The study was designed to test the Migration and Pilot Ridge Models, which make specific predictions concerning the appearance of intensive foraging systems in the region. Resolution of these models has been impeded by the fact that most regional studies have focused on coastal or upland sites.

Research is based in Tolowa ancestral territory, in the extreme northwestern corner of California, and includes (1) archival research and ethnographic interviews conducted with Tolowa consultants, which document previously unknown details about aboriginal land use of the Smith River Basin and show that historic groups persisted in pursuing traditional lifeways despite extreme population decline and displacement due to horrific massacres, disease, forced removals, and a disintegrating traditional economy, and (2) archaeological excavations, which document over 8000 years of human occupation at five sites along the Smith River in the Redwood Belt of northwestern California.

Excavations revealed the longest chronological sequence, the earliest plank houses and the only semi-subterranean sweathouse recorded in northwestern California. Four chronological components are defined, with distinct assemblages, features, and patterns of raw material use and procurement. The dissertation includes an examination of data relating to subsistence (faunal and archaeobotanical analyses, site structure and assemblage correlates) and settlement and mobility (lithic reduction strategies, obsidian distribution patterns).

An increase in the use of the lowland river basin is detected after 5000 cal BP. Acorn processing was important, and residential stability increased, particularly after 3100 cal BP. However, evidence for several key foraging strategies are absent until cal 1250 BP when the rise of linear plank house villages is documented, including logistical pursuit of resources, mass extractive methods, and large scale storage. The restructuring of long distance exchange relationships was clearly related to the developing insularity of social groups and increased sedentism characteristic of the time. Intensive foraging strategies developed and spread quickly throughout the region due to the competitive advantage of sedentary groups laying claim to productive resource patches.

As foragers seem to have chosen to intensify acorns before salmon, a reexamination of the assumed costs and benefits of these staples is offered. The unique trajectory of intensification in northwestern California is shown to have been influenced by the tradition of small groups and emphasis on less risky plant foods, which were probably viewed as privately owned goods. The system was small, efficient, and highly resistant to freeloaders and top down labor demands. The northwestern California system achieved population densities and levels of affluence rivaling those of the classic Pacific Northwest, but more cheaply, without the costly and burdensome sociopolitical organization that mobilized intensive production there. Clearly, organizational complexity is not a necessary prerequisite for hunter-gatherer intensification.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bettinger, Robert L.
Commitee: Eerkens, Jelmer W., Gould, Richard A., Hildebrandt, William R., Yengoyan, Aram A.
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology, Cultural anthropology, Native American studies
Keywords: California, Foraging systems, Hunter-gatherers, Intensification, Pacific Northwest, Salmon, Storage
Publication Number: 3379635
ISBN: 9781109487374