The Dolphin Hunters: A Specialized Prehistoric Maritime Adaptation in the Southern California Channel Islands and Baja California

by Harumi Fujita, Judith F. Porcasi
The Dolphin Hunters: A Specialized Prehistoric Maritime Adaptation in the Southern California Channel Islands and Baja California
Harumi Fujita, Judith F. Porcasi
American Antiquity
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Judith F. Porcasi and Harumi Fujita

Synthesis offaunal collections from several archaeological sites on the three soutlzernmost California Channel Islands and one in the Cape Region of Baja California reveals a distinctive maritime adaptation more heavily reliant on the capture ofpelagic dolphins than on near-shore pinnipeds. Previous reports from other Southern California coastal sites suggest that dolphin hunt- ing may have occurred there but to a lesser extent. While these findings may represent localized adaptations to special condi- tions on these islands and the Cape Region, they call for reassessment of the conventionally held concept that pinnipeds were invariably the prima~y mammalian food resource for coastal peoples. Evidence of the intensive use of small cetaceans is anti- thetical to the accepted models of maritime optinzal foraging which assume that shore-based or near-shore marine mammals (i.e., pinnipeds) wolrlcl be the highest-rankedprey because they were readily encountered and captured. While methods of dol- phin lzunting remain archaeologically invisible, several island cultures in which dolphin were intensively exploited by people

using primitive watercraft and little or no ~veaponry are presented as possible analogs to aprehistoric Southern California dol- phin-hunting technique. These findings also indicate that dolphin hunting was probably a cooperative endeavor among vari- ous members of the prehistoric community.

La sintesis de varias colecciories faunisticas procedentes de 1o.r sitios arqueoldgicos localizados en tres de las islas Channel mas surefins de California revela una adaptacidn maritima distintiva, mas dependiente de la captura de delfines quepin@edos costefios. Hay un sitio en la Regidn del Cabo de Baja California que presenta indicios de una indole semejante. Reportes anterioresprove- nientes de algunos sitios costeros de California continental, nos llevan a pensar que la caza dedelfin pudo lzaber sido practicada alli tambidn aunque en nlenor escala. Aunque estos descubrimientos podrian representar una adaptacidn localizada a las condi- ciones existentes en estas islas y en el esteril desierto de la Regidn del Cabo, es necesario realizar un nuevo estudio o evaluacidn del concept0 general comunmente aceptado de que 10s pinijxdos eran invariablemente la fuente mamifera alimenticia principal de 10s pueblos costeros. La evidencia del uso intensivo de cetaceos menores contradice 10s modelos generalmente aceptados sobre la explotacidn sustentable de recursos marinos 10s cuales asumen que 10s mamljFeros marinos del ocdano o costeAos (p.ej. pin@e- dos) servian como aliment0 de las mejore especie ya que facilmente eran encontrados y capturados. Aunque 10s mdtodos de cap- tura de delfnes en 10s sitios en las islas y en Baja California son invisibles arqueologicamente, ciertas culturas insulares lzicieron uso intensivo del delfin empleando embarcaciones primitivas y con escasa o ninguna herramienta para su caceria. La captura del delfin estaba considerada como la mas valiosa. Estas culturas se presentan como posibles analogos en lo que pudo haber sido la tecnica de la caza de delfin en la prehistoria del sur de California. Una inferencia significativa de estos hallazgos es que la caza de delfines probablemente fue un esfuerzo cooperativo que requirid organizacidn y participacidn de varios miembros de la comu- nidad prehistorica.

or decades, theorists of maritime cultural pat- ally available marine foods could support large, thriv- terns argued that foragers turned to the world's ing Early Holocene populations (Moseley 1975; oceans only after more productive terrestrial Quilter and Stocker 1983). In the last decade, food resources were exhausted (e.g., Bailey 1975; research on the North American Pacific coast has Chartkoff and Chartkoff 1984; Osborn 1977; supported this interpretation of maritime adaptation, Parmelee and Klippel 1974; Yesner 1987). Other showing that intensive maritime foraging began dur- researchers found support for a "maritime hypothe- ing the Early Holocene or even during the terminal sis" which posits that abundant, localized, perenni- Pleistocene (Erlandson 1994; Erlandson and Moss

Judith F. Porcasi .Zooarchaeology Laboratory, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA

90024-1510 Harumi Fujita .Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, 16 de Septiembre 1035, La Paz, Baja California Sur, C.P. 23000

American Antiquity, 65(3), 2000, pp. 543-566 
Copyright O2000 by the Society for American Archaeology 

AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 65, No. 3, 20001

1996; Jones 1991). Once this great time depth was recognized, serious attempts were made to compre- hend the long-term evolution of maritime hunting and gathering. Drawing upon principles of evolu- tionary ecology, notably including prey-choice mod- els, theorists such as Hildebrandt and Jones (1992), Jones and Hildebrandt (1995), and Lyman (1995) proposed that large marine mammal "meat pack- ages" such as pinnipeds were the highest-ranked mammalian targets of coastal hunters, but disagreed about trans-Holocene patterns of pinniped exploita- tion and extirpation (Porcasi et al. 2000). Yet reso- lution of this debate will not thoroughly describe early maritime hunting patterns. As Yesner makes clear (1987), maritime hunter-gatherer societies are highly variable and have distinctive characters based on specific conditions of their environment. The dynamics of prey choice in prehistoric sea mammal hunting are still subject to some intriguing surprises, as this paper illustrates.

Several archaeological sites in the southern group of the California Channel Islands have yielded trans- Holocene mammalian archaeofaunas with excep- tionally large concentrations of dolphin bone. These sites represent what may be a highly specialized adaptation in which small cetaceans, not pinnipeds, are the primary prey choice for trans-Holocene hunter-gatherers.

The archaeofaunal collections described in this paper derive from Eel Point on San Clemente Island (CA-SCLI-43), Little Harbor on Santa Catalina Island (CA-SCAI- 17), andnousand Springs on San Nicolas Island (CA-SNI-11). The quantities of dol- phin bone recovered from these sites cannot be accounted for by passive shoreline scavenging of stranded or dead animals. At these sites, dolphin bone is found throughout the midden and exceeds pinniped bone in most chronologically identified components, even though several species of pin- nipeds had prehistoric rookeries and haulouts in the southern archipelago.' Other island sites (e.g., Wil- son Cove, CA-SCLI- 120) also have produced small- sample evidence of focused dolphin exploitation.

These findings from California's southern islands are not entirely unique. Preliminary data from the Punta Arena site on Santa Cruz Island in the north- ern island group indicate that notable quantities of dolphin bone were deposited there about 5,000 years ago (Michael A. Glassow, personal communication 1998, 1999).

Farther afield, analysis of a Late Holocene site (Las Tinas 3) in Baja California reveals a mammalian archaeofauna which is virtually all dolphin bone even thoughpinnipeds and some terrestrial mammals were available in the area. While no cultural or chrono- logical link between the California islands and the Baja California site is intended, the similarity of these data suggests that diverse, non-contempora- neous coastal populations may have independently developed subsistence patterns with highly special- ized emphases on dolphins.

Although the data we present here are new, scat- tered hints of localized dolphin exploitation came to light decades ago. Perhaps the most important of these early findings was Meighan's (1959) ecologi- cal summary of Little Harbor. The proportion of dol- phin bone recovered from that site during 1953-55 excavations prompted him to revise his concept of the early islanders' maritime techniques from shore- based gathering, hunting, and fishing to include off- shore watercraft and weaponry capable of collecting dolphin (1959:401-402). Because these findings were unique at the time, the Little Harbor archaeo- fauna has been considered anomalous until the pre- sent day.

In the 1960s, two shell middens on the SantaBar- bara coast (CA-SBA-53 and CA-SBA-54, the Aero- physics and Del Mar sites) produced faunal collections with notable proportions of dolphin bone (Harrison and Harrison 1966). Although the actual quantities of identified marine mammal bone at these sites are small, there is almost as much dolphin bone as pinniped bone. Combined with much large ter- restrial mammal bone and an array of unusual arti- facts suitable for hunting large mammals, especially oddly elongated projectile points (which the inves- tigators considered ideal for penetrating marine mammal skulls), these collections led to an hypoth- esis of an immigrant archaic population of skillful hunters capable of capturing the "big game" of the sea as well as of the land (Harrison and Harrison 1966). In the absence of corroborating data, and because theoretical predispositions toward cultural evolution prevailed in recent decades, this hypothe- sis was given little credence (e.g., Bleitz-Sanburg 198756-57; Moratto 1984:137-141).

The new data reported in this paper modify and broaden the character of the trans-Holocene mar- itime economy along the west coast of southern North America. We first describe the specialized Cal-


ifornia Channel Islands and Baja California marine mammal collections as evidence that from the Early through the Late Holocene, various groups of Native Americans had developed successful methods for exploiting dolphins. In all these sites, the quantity and relative proportion of dolphin bone far exceed those of other mammalian sources such as pinnipeds. Intensive exploitation of these large-bodied cetaceans would have yielded great quantities of protein and fat which may not have been accounted for in pre- sent-day descriptions of island subsistence patterns. This enriched subsistence may have contributed to the overall health and stability of the maritime com- munity. In the Southern California Channel Islands, this exploitation began in the Early Holocene, cli- maxed during the Middle Holocene, and then, for no known reason, declined rapidly in the Late Holocene. In Baja California, evidence for exploitation of dol- phins is found dated to the Late Holocene, but by the time European missionaries wrote their ethnographic histories, "the natives lacked equipment which would have permitted them to fish open waters or to hunt large sea mammals" (Aschmann 1959: 100).

We then present examples of dolphin-hunting techniques from several other island cultures as analogs for the specialized California dolphin-hunt- ing adaptation. While there is no archaeological evi- dence pointing to use of these techniques at our reported sites, the bones give testimony that the dol- phin were being intensively exploited, and these analogs clearly indicate that prehistoric people could have captured dolphins by simple means without highly developed technologies. Finally, we address the enigmas presented by our findings: Who were the dolphin hunters, how did they capture so many dolphins, and why did exploitation of dolphins cease so abruptly? Hopefully these enigmas will promote new directions of research.

Optimal Foraging Considerations

Applying optimal foraging principles, pelagic dol- phins might be expected to be low-ranked prey because of the difficulties, risks, and technology involved in open-ocean hunting. In the diet-breadth or prey-choice models, resources are ranked for pur- poses of exploitation by their post-encounter return rate (the amount of energy gathered per unit time after being encountered) when the costs of obtaining the resource also are considered (Kelly 1995). Conven- tion holds that pinnipeds are the highest-ranked mammalian food source on the Channel Islands, where vast herds of breeding females and their young are considered primary targets (Hildebrandt and Jones 1992; Lyman 1995). Most marine mammal archaeofaunas reported to date have reflected this principle.2 The need for seaworthy watercraft and harpoons to capture pelagic animals, not to mention the energetic costs involved, are generally cited as factors limiting dolphin capture to natural strandings or to opportunistic entrapments in fishing nets. Yet as Jones states, we can assume that "resources will enter the hunter-gatherer colonist diet in the order of energetic efficiency, and that the archaeological record preserves the history of this resource use" (1991:420).

We recognize that dolphins would account for a large proportion of protein and fat in the prehistoric diet at these sites, especially since dolphin bone exceeds that of pinnipeds, but we make no attempt in this paper to assess the comparative importance of dolphins to the non-mammalian protein sources exploited by the coastal peoples (i.e., fish, shellfish, or birds). Although we appreciate the importance of assessing the contributions of those resources rela- tive to mammalian food sources, they have not yet been quantified or analyzed in any standard manner at these sites. Nor is that our purpose. Rather, it is our task to focus on the mammalian fauna at these sites and to present a possible scenario which could account for the preeminent ranking of dolphins evi- denced in the archaeological record.

The Faunal Evidence

Throughout this paper we present percentages (pro- portion) of the different marine mammals (i.e., pin- nipeds and dolphins) in each archaeofauna based on simple fragment count rather than the complex (but frequently used) Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) index. The MNI is fraught with analytical ambiguities and weaknesses and involves arbitrarily constructed aggregates (see, for example, Grayson [1984], Lyman [1982], or Reitz and Wing [1999]). Furthermore, reducing large faunal collections to MNI diminishes the analytical base to nearly mean- ingless small quantities. Most zooarchaeologists now prefer a combination of two or more measures to evaluate and quantify an archaeofauna. We believe that a proportional presentation of the bone quanti- ties of the two most important marine mammals at these sites (pinnipeds and dolphins) avoids the poten-

AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 65, No. 3, 20001

120" i3no

Santa Catahna Island

Archaeologbcal Site -County Boundary San D~egoRwer Esiu

40 Kilometers

Figure 1. The Southern California Bight.

tial problems of a superficial index and is the most direct, least-biased scale for comparing and contrasting the extent to which these animals were exploited at each site.

The Eel Point Site (CA-SCLI-43)

San Clemente Island is the southernmost and fourth largest (148 sq km) of the California Channel Islands (Figure 1).It is 61 km due west of San Diego on the mainland. The other two habitable southern islands, Santa Catalina and San Nicolas, are approximately 39 and 97 km distant from San Clemente, respectively. Stratigraphy is extraordinarily well preserved on San Clemente because there are no burrowing animals and most of the island is an undeveloped military preserve. The western shore of this island hosts a populous sea lion rookery and elephant seal haulout.

Eel Point is a rocky headlandjutting seawardfrom the western coast of the island. It is the landward terminus of Eel Ridge, a prominence of Miocene sedimentary rock projecting westward from the island directly into a deep submarine canyon (Eel Ridge Canyon) (Ridlon 1972:1831-1834). This canyon forms the only break in the offshore terrace of the island and may have played an important role in bringing pelagic species such as dolphin nearshore where they could be hunted. Furthermore, the resilience of this shoreline has helped protect the site from erosion from the sea. The site itself (Figure 2) is an expansiveknoll capping intact culturaldeposits, often 300 to 500 cm thick. Previous research has demonstrated that this site was occupied by maritime-adapted people from about 9000 to 500 B.P. (Armstrong 1985;Axford 1978,1984;Aycock 1983; McKusick and Warren 1959; Meighan 1984, 1986;

'...--: Buried Midden


Contour interval = 10feet AMSL 
After Yatsko, 1992,1994 



Figure 2. Eel Point site (CA-SCLI-43).

Raab and Yatsko 1992; Salls 1988, 1990, 1991). fully controlled sample of artifacts and faunal mate-

In 1994 and 1996 this site was excavated by Cal- rials. Thirteen test units were excavated to sterile ifornia State University-Northridge (CSUN), in con- (volume 33.08 m3), the majority in natural strata. All junction with the Navy's Office of Natural material was screened through %-inch screen. Forty- Resources. The project was designed to develop a two radiocarbon dates provided a relatively fine- detailed chronological structure of the site and a care- grained temporal framework for the entire period of

Table 1. Summary of the 199411996 Eel Point Non-Piscine Osteological Collection.

Category Pinnipeds Delphinidae Unident. Cetaceans Sea Otters Unident. Mammals (Marine) Unident. Vertebrates Other" Terrest. Mammals Birds TOTAL "Rodents and lizards.

% of Ident. % of Ident. Marine

NISP % of Total NISP (4703) Mammal (2403) 791 5.9 16.8 32.9 922 6.9 19.6 38.4 189 1.4 4.0 7.9 501 3.7 10.7 20.8

7,715 57.7 --
950 7.1 --
92 < 1 2.0 -
659" 4.9 14 -
1549 11.6 32.9 -


b~ncludesa feature of more than 600 neonatelfetal dog bones, probably a buried litter.

site occupation ranging between 6440 cal B.C. and cal A.D. 1400.

Because of the firm chronological control and undisturbed stratigraphy, all recovered faunal remains, from dated strata as well as from undated strata bracketed by dated strata, could be lumped into a coarse-grained temporal structure. To accom- plish this for the Eel Point faunal data, the Holocene was divided into five periods: Early (8000-5000 B.C.), undated EarlyIMiddle (UEIM), Middle (5000-1500 B.C.), undated MiddleLate (UM/L), and Late Holocene (1500 B.C.-A.D. 1400). The undated periods derive from strata for which no radiocarbon evidence is available, but their strati- graphic position between dated layers allows rela- tive temporal placement.

These excavations produced a total Number of Identified Specimens (NISP) of 10,118 marine mam- mal bones3 (306 bones per m"), of which 2403 were identified to order, family, genus, or species levels using comparative specimens at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Zooarchaeology Laboratory, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and the UCLA D. R. Dickey Bio- logical Collection. Surprisingly, of the identified bones, 922 specimens (38.4 percent) were del- phinidae (nearly all dolphins), while 791 (32.9 per- cent) were pinniped (Table 1). The remaining 28.7 percent of identified marine mammal bone consisted of large cetaceans and sea otters. Another 7715 spec- imens were unidentified marine mammal, but these were quantified as pinnipeds, dolphins, otters, or large cetaceans in the same proportions (by frag- ment count) as the identified bones.

Equally surprising was the finding that a consid- erable quantity of dolphin bone was deposited dur- ing the Early Holocene (Figure 3). The proportion of dolphin bone escalates steeply throughout Mid- dle Holocene strata and UEM strata preceding that period (which may represent the early portion of the Middle Holocene or the late portion of the Early Holocene), and then decreases markedly during the Late Holocene. The decline in pinniped bone during these same periods is directly opposite the increase in dolphin bone and suggests a radical change in hunting strategy. Since most of the Eel Point mid- den is dated to the Middle Holocene, this indicates that during the longest span of occupation, dolphin hunting was a major enterprise at this site. From a cultural evolution point of view, positing more highly developed maritime technology over time (e.g., open-ocean canoes, harpoons, etc.), these findings are antithetical. The Eel Point data tend to support suggestions made decades ago of an earlier and more intensive, perhaps more successful, adaptation to a predominantly maritime lifeway than currently acknowledged (Harrison and Harrison 1966; Meighan 1959).

The Wilson Cove Site (CA-SCLI-120)

Wilson Cove is a large embayment on the northern coast of San Clemente Island some 12 km from Eel Point. Excavation of this site in 1950 by San Diego State College and in 1986 by San Diego State Uni- versity revealed several loci of a habitational site arranged along the length of the marine terrace above the cove. In the 1950 project, two units (probably 1.5 m x 1.5 m) were excavated and screened to about .5 m depth (Andrew Yatsko, personal communication 1999). However, the area may have been previously excavated (Noah 1987:66). Because large, refined artifacts may have been culled during the previous




Figure 3. Eel Point marine mammal bone over time.

excavation, the 1950 collection consisted primarily of lithic debitage, animal bone, and a large amount of fish bone. Of the 144 mammal bones recovered, 136 (94 percent) were cetacean, mostly dolphin. Only 3 bones (2 percent) were pinniped (Noah 1987:67-68; 226-227). The 1986 project at this site involved rescreening the backdirt from the 1950 pro- ject in an effort to establish screen size used in the original project by assessment of residual cultural materials. Results were inconclusive. Since then, one locus has been radiocarbon dated to 1015 cal B.C. (Andrew Yatsko, personal communication 1998). The high percentage of dolphin in the small Wilson Cove sample suggests that dolphin were actively exploited here and that pinnipeds were of lesser importance as a food resource at this site (Noah


The Little Harbor Site (CA-SCAI-17)

Santa Catalina Island is located 42 km southwest of Los Angeles Harbor and is the second largest of the California Channel Islands, the largest of the south- em group. It is 34 km long and 13 km wide at its maximum, and is nearly bisected by a narrow isth- mus less than 1 km wide. Its nearest neighbor is San Clemente Island. The Little Harbor site caps a gen- tly sloped headland towering hundreds of feet above a narrow embayment on the seaward coast of the island (Figure 4). Like Eel Point, Little Harbor is favored with a deep submarine trench, the Catalina Canyon, which thrusts directly into the embayment at the base of the cliff.

Little Harbor contains an extremely dense, dark ashy midden beginning about 30 cm below the pre- sent surface. This transitions into a clay basal stra- tum at approximately 65 cm below the surface. The midden contains abundant bone and shell as well as lithic artifacts and other cultural materials.

Three excavation projects at this site produced consistent concentrations of dolphin bone. In 1953-1955, a UCLA field school excavated 19 five- foot-square units on the upper knoll of the site (26 cubic yards of matrix) (Meighan 1959). Although the matrix was not screened, this project yielded some 6,200 bones (238 fragments per cubic yard). Nearly 50 projectile points and projectile point fragments

AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 65, No. 3, 20001

Figure 4. Little Harbor site (CA-SCAI-17).

were recovered, most of which were deemed "large" which produced the rich collection of artifacts and as described by Fenenga (1953). faunal remains. A single Middle Holocene radio- Five distinct depositions (Layers) were identified carbon date (uncorrected) of 3880 + 250 B.P. was by Meighan. Layer 4 was the dense cultural midden obtained from charcoal samples collected from the


base of Layer 4. This date has now been dendrocal- ibrated and corrected by CALIB 3.0.3 (Stuiver and Reimer 1993) as 2384 cal B.C. However, this date remains problematic since the charcoal sample was derived from three different portions of the basal midden between 50 and 60 cm deep (Raab et al. 1995:294).

The archaeofaunal assemblage collected in 1953-1955 consisted of 4,037 mammal bones and fragments, 536 (13 percent) of which were identi- fied to family level. The remainder of the bones appeared to be the same types of animals. The col- lection was reported as 81 percent cetacean (pri- marily dolphins), 16 percent pinniped (seals), and 3 percent terrestrial mammal. Because this collection was not screened, a bias favoring large species can be assumed, but the relative proportions of dolphins and pinnipeds are probably not overly distorted since both types of animals produce large, highly visible bones.

In 1973, a UCLA field school again excavated this site. Matrix from 31 units was screened through %inch screen (Nelson Leonard 111, personal commu- nication 1997). Most units were downslope and west of the earlier project area, dispersed throughout the seaward-projecting cliff. The units were excavated to varying depths and were recorded in both arbi- trary 10-cm levels and four observed cultural depo- sitions termed Natural Levels (NL).A total of 22.48 m3 of matrix yielded 17,929 mammal and bird bone fragments (798 fragments per m3). These bones were identified using comparative specimens at the pre- viously-named museums, and it was found that of the identified marine mammal bone, dolphins made up 69 percent, pinnipeds 19.7 percent, large cetaceans 9.4 percent, and sea otters 1.8 percent. As in the earlier excavation, numerous large projectile points were found.

Natural Level 2 is the primary cultural midden corresponding to Layer 4 described by Meighan. One Late Holocene date (cal. A.D. 1022) was derived from the uppermost Natural Level 1, and two Mid- dle Holocene radiocarbon dates (3591 and 3336 cal. B.C.) were derived from Natural Level 2, all dates from Unit 1 of this project (Kaufman 1976; Raab et al. 1995:293). The Middle Holocene dates support correlation of Natural Level 2 with Meighan's Layer 4 by establishing the date of this level as about 5000 years B.P. (Kaufman 1976).

Little Harbor was explored again in 1991 by CSUN. This project consisted of three units exca- vated in arbitrary 10-cm levels (total excavated vol- ume 1.475 m3) screened through %-inch mesh. This yielded 3,422 mammal and bird bone fragments (2,320 fragments per m3), identified using compar- ative specimens at the previously named museums. As in the 1973 collection, dolphin bone far exceeded that of other marine mammals available at this site. Of the identified marine mammal bone, 54 percent was dolphin (five species),4 39 percent was pinniped,

3.4 percent was large cetacean, and 3.5 percent was


sea otter.

Six additional radiocarbon dates were obtained from various levels of the three units, including the basal level of the deepest unit. On the basis of these dates, along with the earlier published dates, Raab et al. (1995:293) established a chronology for this site and a series of five cultural components span- ning the Holocene. The richest of these is Compo- nent 2, which corresponds with Layer 4 (Meighan 1959:386) and Natural Level 2 identified during the 1973 excavation. Based on the average of six radio- carbon dates, a date of 33 16 *30 cal. B.C. was estab- lished for Component 2. The earliest date derived from the site is 5704 cal. B.C., some 4,000 years older than the date originally published by Meighan, who expressed amazement at the antiquity of the dolphin- focused economy he found (1959:401).

Using the 10 dates established for this site, we have cross-dated the 1959, 1973, and 199 1 excavations into a trans-Holocene timeline for Little Harbor (Table 2). To include undated but stratigraphically interven- ing deposits between dated Middle and Late Holocene levels, the UE/M undated period was applied for these data in the same manner as for the Eel Point data. Then the radiocarbon dates (and the Components [Raab et al. 1995:293], Natural Levels, and Layers [Meighan 19591 they represent) are cross-dated into these peri- ods. Thus, the various Layers, Natural Levels, and Components identified at Little Harbor are grouped into the same Holocene time frame as was estab- lished for the Eel Point data. While integrity of site stratigraphy at Little Harbor has been questioned (Arnold et al. 1997), both Meighan (1959) and Raab et al. (1995) found that pothunting and erosional dis- turbance was limited to the upper 30 cm of the site. The present analysis of the 1973 and 199 1 faunal col- lections (more than 20,000 specimens from 34 screened units) yielded only 17 squirrel bones, no gopher bones, and no rodent burrows or other sources

Table 2. Cross-dating the Stratigraphy at Little Harbor. (Volumes are from 197311991 excavations only.)

1995 (Raab et al.) 1973 UCLA 1959 (Meighan)

Period1 Volume 14cDatesa Components
Late18.85 m3 A.D. 1022 (956-1070) UCLA-1880A 5
  A.D. 657 (617-681) Be~47276~ 4
  2384 B.C. (39224335) ~ei~han-434d 3
Middle18.5 m3 3172 B.C. (3028-3320) Beta-47277 2
  through 3943 B.C. (3799-3967) Beta-47272  
UE/M/5.025m"   -
Earlyl.1 m3 5704 B.C. (5579-5947) Beta-47278 1

Natural Levels ~a~ers~ 1 213 1 213

2 4


"From Raab et al. (1995) cal years B.C./A.D., mean dates with corresponding 1-sigma intercepts in


'Layer 1 was clay overwash. Layer 5 was noncultural subsoil.

'This date was taken from the interface between the 20-30 and 3040 cm levels.

d~ateproblematic due to sampling discrepancy.

of bioturbation. Therefore, we concur that the primary cultural deposit between 30 and 65 cm is undisturbed and can be dealt with in this manner.

Table 3 presents the combined archaeofaunal col- lections of the 1973 and 1991 Little Harbor projects. Figure 5 presents changes in the combined 1973 and 1991 faunal assemblages over the cross-dated time- line. Data from the 1953-1955 excavation are not included since the matrix was unscreened and the bone is unquantifiable by provenience. The exploita- tion of dolphin is predominant throughout the Holocene, with a moderate increase in pinnipeds rel- ative to dolphins during the Middle Holocene, after which the dolphins increase again6. During the Mid- dle Holocene exploitation of all marine mammals at Little Harbor climaxed synchronously with a "Mid- Holocene Peak" identified at Eel Point (Porcasi 1995).

Using the cross-dating scheme described above for Little Harbor and the well-dated strata from Eel Point, we can now combine and compare the trans- Holocene faunal collections from both these sites (Figure 6). This composite analysis reveals that a dol- phin-focused adaptation flourished on both Santa Catalina and San Clemente Islands beginning in the Early Holocene and climaxing in the Middle Holocene. This finding is contrary to the extant body of faunal analyses on the California coast and brings a new dimension to patterns of resource exploitation of the early islanders.

The Thousand Springs Site (CA-SNI-11)

San Nicolas Island lies northwest of both Santa Catalina and San Clemente Islands and is the outer- most island of the southern archipelago. It is smaller and lower in elevation than either of the other two islands, and strong northwesterly winds continually buffet the land, deflating sites and redepositing archaeological materials (Salls 1988:423424). The Thousand Springs site was explored in 1977-1979 by California State University-Los Angeles. It is an extensive complex of dunes dominated by four

Table 3. Summary of the Combined 197311991 Little Harbor Non-Piscine Osteological Collection. 
Category NISP % of Total NISP % of Ident. NISP (6120) % of Ident. Marine Mammal (4596) 

Pinnipeds 1,033 Delphinidae 3,073 Unident. Cetaceans 394 Sea Otters 96 Unident. Mammals (Marine) 14,917 Unident. Vertebrates 314 Human 118a Snake 1 Terrest. Mammals 122 Birds 1283 TOTAL 21,351

4.8 16.9 22.5

14.4 50.2 66.9

1.8 6.4 8.6

< 1 1.6 2.0

69.9 -

1.5 -

< 1 1.9 < 1 < 1 < 1 2.0

6.0 2 1

" Remains of a cremation recovered during the 1991 project.



Figure 5. Little Harbor marine mammal bone over time (* = 1991 data only; ** = 1973 data only; Middle and UM/L 

data are averaged for both project years).

mounds capped with cultural deposits. On the basis of artifact typology and radiocarbon dates (uncor- rected), three cultural levels were defined: Stratum I

(A.D. 1377 to 270 B.C.), which produced the major- ity of the cultural material; Stratum I1 (1480 B.C.); and Stratum I11 (2210 B.C.) (Reinman and Lauter 1981; Reinman 1982). Because of the disturbed stratigraphy and possible contamination of the orig- inal radiocarbon samples, a new suite of radiocarbon dates was obtained in 1997 and now brackets Stra- tum I between 1600 and 600 B.P. (dendrocalibrated) (Patricia Martz, personal communication 1997).

The mammalian and avian faunal collection of this site was described by Bleitz-Sanburg (1987), who identified seven delphinidae species.7 While dolphin made up only 15 percent of all mammal bone col- lected during this project, the majority (79 percent) of the 690 recovered delphinidae bones came from a single component, Stratum I,suggesting a single period of intensive exploitation of small cetaceans.

The Las Tinas 3 Site, Baja California Sur

The Las Tinas 3 site is located on the Gulf of Cali- fornia about 65 krn southeast of La Paz in the Cape Region of the Baja California peninsula. The site is an extensive shell midden located on a rock-bound ridge some 10 m above sea level (Figure 7). In 1997 this site was salvaged by the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) (Fujita 1998). The project consisted of a 4-x-5-m unit excavated and recorded in 20 conjoined 1-x-1-m subunits in 10-cm levels within the ashy sand midden between 33 and 60 cm in depth. Abundant bone, shell, numerous hearths with charcoal, lithics, and crude projectile pointss were recovered by screening through W-inch mesh. Two marine shell samples, one from an upper level of the deposit and one from nearer the base of the midden produced dates of cal. A.D. 1 154 and cal

A.D. 1180, respectively.9 Charcoal dating is still pending. Some 5373 mammal bones were recov- ered, of which 1923 were identified to class, family, genus, or species using comparative specimens at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur in La Paz and the Los Angeles County Museum of Nat- ural History. Of the 1923 identified bones, 1895 (98.5 percent) were dolphln. Since only 18 bones (< 1 per-

AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 65, No. 3, 20001



L.H. PlNNlPEDS -#+




Figure 6. Two-site comparison of dolphins vs. pinnipeds at Eel Point (E.P) and Little Harbor (L.H.).

cent) were terrestrial mammals (Table 4), the 3432 to contain unchanging types of artifacts and faunal unidentified mammal bones are likely to be marine remains over time, suggesting invariable practices mammals in the same general proportion as the iden- throughout the Late Prehistoric occupation. This is tified bone. On the basis of 75 complete or nearly consistent with the almost contemporary dates complete tympano-periotics, seven dolphin species obtained from the two stratigraphically ordered were identified.I0The few pinniped bones (15) were samples. consistent with California sea lion, but might also Just a few meters southeast of the test unit, and have been another species such as the southern still within the boundaries of the site, investigators (Guadalupe) fur seal. found an extremely large (20-by-40-m) "firing place"

Overall, the relatively shallow midden appeared with evidence of habitual burning of numerous dol-

Table 4. Summary of the 1997 Las Tinas 3 Non-Piscine Osteological Collection

Category NISP % of Total NISP % of Ident. NISP (1926) % of Ident. Marine Mammal (1912) Pinnipeds 15 < 1 < 1 < 1 Delphinidae 1,895 35 98.4 99.1 Unident. Cetaceans 2 < 1 <1 < 1 Unident. Mammalsa 3,443 64 --Unident. Vertebrates 6 < 1 -Deer 10 < 1 < 1 Terrestrial Mammalsb 8 < 1 -Birds 4 < 1 < 1 TOTAL 5,383 " Most of which are probably dolphin.

Deer and a small mammal (probably rabbit), plus a single historic bone (cow toe) found on the surface.


To Los Barriles

Las Tinas 3Site

Figure 7. Las Tinas 3 site (Baja California Sur).

phin. This hearth extends 1.5-m deep and is associ- ated with heaps of burned rocks, shells, and charred dolphin bones. This firing place is the largest ever found in the Cape Region of Baja California, sug- gesting that Las Tinas 3 may have served as a cen- tralized dolphin processing location as well as a primary shellfish procurement site.

Although minor quantities of dolphin bone have been recovered from several other sites in the Cape Region (e.g., El Conchalito, El Medano, Espiritu Santo Island, Cerralvo Island), no similar concen- trations of dolphin bone have been found. However, the use of dolphin on the Baja California peninsula is yet to be tested. Although some central desert and Pacific Coast sites have been studied in some detail (Aschmann 1959; Ritter 1999; Ritter and Payen 1992), most archaeology in Baja California has con- sisted of surface survey or limited sampling, explo- ration of rock art sites, identification and quantification of invertebrate taxa, or ethnographic studies of protohistoric or historic peoples. On the Gulf Coast, most research has focused on the north-

AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 65, No. 3, 20001

em and central peninsular area and offshore islands (e.g., Ritter 1994, 1995, 1997). Until recently, little exploration was focused in the Cape Region or Gulf Coast or included in-depth excavation, and much of the published literature dates back several decades and involves only ethnographic reports of faunal col- lections (e.g., Aschmann 1959, 1966; Banks 1972; Felger and Moser 1985; Foster 1984; Massey 1955, 1966; Ritter 1979). Only a few buried deposits have been thoroughly excavated in recent years and their faunal content analyzed using modem techniques (e.g., Ritter 1999). As more faunal analyses become available, a better picture of the use of dolphin in the Cape Region may emerge.

Interpreting the Dolphin-focused 
Maritime Adaptation 

Looking at the above data sets, we see that at differ- ent periods during the Holocene, certain prehistoric peoples on the American continent exploited dol- phins in a highly specialized lifeway. In all likelihood this exploitation yielded far more marine mammal protein than researchers previously estimated was available to the early hunter-gatherer-fishers. Dol- phins provide significantly more flesh per individ- ual kill than do pinnipeds," and our data show that more dolphins were taken than pinnipeds. It is pos- sible that exploitation of dolphin, especially in the Middle Holocene on the Southem California islands, provided a sufficiently stable resource base to per- mit establishment of more-or-less sedentary mar- itime communities not unlike those of some northern maritime peoples. For example, Ames and Maschner (1999) and Renouf (1991) contend that maritime sedentism is promoted by availability of stable mar- itime resources which may vary seasonally but not spatially and which can be efficiently exploited from a centralized location. Such a community, consist- ing of at least 18 whale-bone-roofed houses, several of which are dated to 50004000 B.P., is found on San Clemente Island (Raab 1997; Raab et al. 1994). This highly specialized adaptation may have been fostered by the submarine canyons which project directly into both Little Harbor and Eel Point, bring- ing pelagic species into the range of the hunters. At the Baja California site this specialized economy may have been mandated by the sparse terrestrial resources of the southern desert in contrast to the aus- picious maritime environment of the Gulf Coast.

To support this interpretation, however, it is nec- essary to first address two issues which justifiably may be raised in any analysis dealing with dolphin bone: the problem of dolphin bone quantification and the question of natural dolphin strandings vs. active hunting.

The Dolphin Bone Count Issue

Delphinidae bone is easily recognized by experi- enced zooarchaeologists, even when found in small, amorphous fragments. Its cellular structure differs greatly from pinniped or otter bone. Dolphin cranial bones have a distinctive "sandpaper" texture and are either thin plates or linear rostrum fragments with characteristic horizontal striations. The vertebral cen- tra, which make up the majority of most dolphin archaeofaunas, are porous, perforated flattened disks unlike those of any other mammals. Vertebral processes are slim, flat, and straight, unlike those of other mammals, terrestrial or marine. Similarly, the vertebral epiphyses are distinctive flat disks normally unfused until the dolphin is quite mature; thus they most frequently are found in great number detached from the centra. Dolphin forelimb bones (humerus, radius, and ulna) are uniquely shaped among mam- mals; carpals and phalanges are distinctively flat and lozenge-shaped. Dolphins are hyperphalangic, pro- ducing more elements than other mammals. Several dolphin species have numerous small, easily disar- ticulated teeth, as many as 100 per individual (Leathenvood and Reeves 1990). Because of the rec- ognizability of dolphin bone, a skilled faunal ana- lyst is likely to identify a much higher percentage of dolphin bone than the less diagnostic, highly frag- mented remains of other marine taxa (e.g., otters or pinnipeds). In short, dolphin NISP can easily be inflated.

In a simple experiment to see if this problem may have affected the dolphin NISPs reported here, we arbitrarily introduced a 30-percent error into the Eel Point data, reducing dolphin NISP by 15 percent and increasing the NISPs of the other marine mammals by 15 percent each (Figure 8). A 30-percent error rate would be considered extremely high for any faunal analysis. Although this experiment mitigated the excessively high proportion of dolphin, the pre- dominance of dolphin during the Middle Holocene remains obvious. Certainly this demonstration does not solve the problem of dolphin bone count, but it supports the basic contention of this paper that dol- phin were the predominant mammalian resource dur-



Figure 8. Introduced 30-percent error, dolphins vs. pinnipeds.

ing most of the Holocene at these sites, even if over- represented by a large percentage because of identi- fiability.

The Strandings Question

Whenever dolphin bone is recovered archaeologi- cally the question arises as to whether it is the result of active hunting or passive collection of beached animals. This question is especially important here. Could the quantities of dolphin bone we report rep- resent natural strandings rather than purposeful hunt- ing? The causes of natural strandings of individual or even groups of small cetaceans remain enigmatic and are variously attributed to underwater topo- graphical anomalies (Dudok van Heel 1962), "racial memory" of dolphin herds (Wood 1979), geomag- netic topography and disturbances (Klinowska 1990), disease (Odell 1987; Odell et al. 1989), par- asites (Morimitsu et al. 1986; Ridgway and Dailey 1972), and pod social structure gone awry (Robson 1984). Furthermore, small cetaceans such as dol- phin tend to be solitary rather than mass strandings (Cowan et al. 1986:323). In any case, and lacking any cohesive evidence for natural mass strandings, we make the argument that on the southern islands these animals were actively captured.

The strongest evidence for our point of view is the quantity of dolphin bone found throughout the cultural strata at the island sites. To date, only the sites reported in this paper have yielded such large quantities of dolphin bone distributed throughout the period of site occupation. Reports from most other sites in the Southern California Bight include little, if any, dolphin. If the deposited bone was the result of natural strandings alone, we would expect to find similar concentrations of dolphin bone elsewhere along the coast where marine conditions are similar. Occasional mass strandings also would produce a punctuated, rather than a continuous, deposit of bone over time. This is not the case at the sites we report and suggests that at some sites dolphins were actively pursued as a regular part of the lifeway.

The beaches of the three southern counties along the coast (Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties) record about 15stranded dolphins per year (25 in a high year). The adjacent southern islands with their relatively rugged and sparsely populated coasts report 1or 2 stranded dolphins per year (John

AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol.65, No. 3, 20001

Heyning, personal communication 1997,2000). The same general pattern is found for the northern three counties along the Bight: Ventura, SantaBarbara, and San Luis Obispo (Charles Woodhouse, personal communication 1997). In a study of dolphin mor- tality, 8 1 stranded dolphin were collected from 100 miles of Los Angeles County and Orange County coastline during a three-year period (Cowan et al.

1986:325). This is not inconsistent with Heyning's most extreme estimates, particularly in today's envi- ronment of ocean pollution, large-scale commercial net fisheries, and modem high-powered watercraft, and works out to about 1.25 dolphins per mile over three years-less than half a dolphin per mile per year. While these strandings data are probably less than complete, they provide a general level of expectancy for natural strandings of small cetaceans. Furthermore, if the Little Harbor and Eel Point dol- phins had been scavenged, they would all have to have been beached within the foraging and "schlep- ping" range of the sites. This is unlikely for the prodi- gious quantities of dolphin reported here. These exceptional archaeofaunas argue that dolphin were actively captured as a major dietary constituent of the people of the southern islands. Now let us attempt to explain the evidence that dolphins were the high- est-ranked marine mammal prey in prehistoric South- ern California.

The Energetics of Dolphin Hunting

What factors could mitigate our intuitive constraints against active hunting of pelagic dolphin by archaic people? Some characteristics of dolphin life history might be considered. Unlike the herds of pinnipeds which seasonally inhabit ancestral rookeries where they can be exploited to scarcity, dolphins occupy no on-shore rookeries or haulouts, are not known to be seasonally constrained for breeding, and are not limited to habitual feeding grounds. Therefore, they are less vulnerable to overexploitation, especially breeding females and calfs. Since they feed in wide ranges of the ocean, dolphins are also less affected by short-term climatic events, such as El Nifio, or extended periods of warm waters which can deci- mate pinniped populations (Colten 1993; Trillmich and Ono 1991). In short, dolphins are a more stable resource than pinnipeds. A site occupied throughout the year would tend to accumulate more dolphin than pinniped bone because pinniped populations are vari- able during the year. Nevertheless, these factors alone cannot explain the predominance of dolphin at Lit- tle Harbor or Eel Point. They only validate the abun- dant presence of dolphin. The daunting problem of dolphin capture, the energetics of the hunt vs. caloric return, is still unanswered. For dolphin to be a high- ranked prey, the islanders must have found a way to reduce the technological and energetic costs of dol- phin capture to the point that dolphins were more eco- nomical to capture than nearby beached pinnipeds.

No canoes or harpoons have been recovered from the sites reported in this article. However, numerous large projectile points are found at these sites and these may have been used to hunt marine mammals offshore. As yet there is no direct evidence of this. The lack of harpoon-type weapons at Early and Mid- dle Holocene island and coastal sites has been tac- itly accepted as negative evidence that marine mammals (i.e., pinnipeds) were simply clubbed on shore (e.g., Glassow 1980:93; Kroeber and Barrett 1960:121). Netting dolphins along with schools of fish is possible, especially within narrow embay- ments such as Little Harbor or Wilson Cove or the lagoons of Baja California, but there is no direct evi- dence (e.g., net weights or cordage) of large-scale net-fishing at these sites.

While the islanders certainly had watercraft, these are assumed to have been simple rafts or dugout canoes. The more elaborate plank canoe is not known in the islands until some 2000 to 1000 years ago, and the seaworthiness of dugouts and their application to pelagic hunting of large mammals is debated (Gould 1968; Hildebrandt and Jones 1992; Hudson 1981;Jobson and Hildebrandt 1980). In the follow- ing section we present global archaeological and ethnographic data which may serve as analogs of the Southern California dolphin-hunting technique. In these scenarios, only the simplest watercraft and lit- tle or no weaponry is needed to capture large num- bers of dolphin. The techniques are always cooperative, involving a cadre of hunters and some- times the shore-based community.

Analogs for Prehistoric Dolphin Hunting

Archaeological data and ethnology from several widespread island populations suggest how archaic people may have captured large quantities of dolphin with little or no technology and low energetic cost, especially at sites benefited by narrow embayments or lagoons. The techniques used by these different groups of dolphin hunters are remarkably similar,


whether archaic, late prehistoric, or even modem. They all use primitive watercraft (dugout canoes in most cases) and rarely employ advanced weaponry. Instead, they apply knowledge of a fatal vulnerabil- ity of the dolphin-its otherwise splendid sociobio- logic communication and echo-location system-to their advantage. This natural system of the dolphin, which serves so well in marine life, can be manipu- lated by humans to capture numerous dolphins dur- ing a single hunt. The common technique found throughout the islands is to surround and drive herds of dolphin using disruptive and aversive sound until they are exhausted and confused, floundeiing into narrow coves, shallow waters, or mangrove swamps where they are easily captured, even by hand.

First, some recent examples: In the Solomon Islands north of New Guinea in the Coral Sea, hunters offshore in an armada of dugouts locate and surround an incoming dolphin herd. The hunters then knock together, underwater, 15-cm cobbles (called rzagi). The dolphins become disoriented from this sonic chaos and flee the sound, often following a societal leader, into narrow passages where they can be cap- tured among the shallow waters and mangrove roots. There, "everyone from the village," including women and children, jumps into the water to hand-catch the dolphins. Each villager holds a dolphin softly by its mouth and swims with it toward a canoe. The dol- phins are hauled into canoes, killed on shore, and taken back to the village (Takekawa 1996:67-72).

In the Faroe Islands a drive fishery of small cetaceans (mainly pilot whales) which began more than a thousand years ago continues today (Bloch et al. 1990:37). Known as the "grind," this procedure, like that of the Solomons, involves driving cetaceans ashore with shouting, slapping the water, and mak- ing aversive underwater sounds. In most cases it takes only two to four hours to drive an entire herd of cetaceans onshore, where they are dispatched in minutes using knives (Bloch et al. 1990; Zachari- assen 1993). While the early Norsemen had spears and harpoons, these are not needed to kill the cetaceans at sea. Today the weapons are retained only as ceremonial regalia and special permission is required to use them in the hunt.

From a late prehistoric context, Steadman et al. (1994) report that Easter Islanders used dugout canoes in an economy based largely on dolphin hunt- ing. Dolphin were the top-ranked and most-numer- ous prey at the site until 500 years ago when the island became totally deforested. When the trees were gone, dugouts could no longer be manufactured, and dol- phin hunting abruptly ceased. Dolphin were replaced in the islanders' diet by rats and native birds. Pin- nipeds were only the sixth-ranked prey, probably because they were less numerous and more difficult or dangerous to capture than rodents or birds (Stead- man et al. 1994:89-91).

Perhaps the most telling archaeological evidence for trans-Holocene dolphin hunting comes from pre- historic Japan. In Japan ca. 5000 years ago (at about the same time the Little Harbor and Eel Point dol- phin were being heavily harvested), the Jomon peo- ple collected, butchered, and communally shared hundreds of dolphin, especially in the Hokkaido region (Hiraguchi 1992, 1993). At the Mawaki site on the Noto peninsula the bones of several hundred individual dolphins were recovered at a location where a large-scale prehistoric drive-fishery is known (Hiraguchi 1992:35). Although the Jomon also used harpoons and netting as hunting-fishing tools, Hiraguchi notes that the driving method of Jomon- period fishers was closely connected with the devel- opment of fishing nets and fishing cooperation, especially where hooks and harpoons were unde- veloped. He goes on to assert that activities associ- ated with dolphin hunting must have contributed greatly to the formation of Jomon-period social orga- nization at Mawaki. Indeed, some dolphin crania appear to have been ritually buried, and at least one skull appears to be part of a shrine.

The Mawaki inlet is ideal for herding and netting dolphins and is described as "the best fishery in the bay and the best place for catching live whales" (Ishikawa Library Association 1938). An 1838 illus- tration of Noto area (Mawaki) fishing notes that a thousand dolphin could be driven into a net, and it took two days to dispatch them all (Hiraguchi 1992).

Stable nitrogen and carbon isotope analyses of the Jomon people reveal that those residing in the Hokkaido area had almost the same isotopic features as marine mammals (Minagawa and Akazawa 1992:61). Studies of protein dependence revealed that some prehistoric Japanese populations, espe- cially those at the Kitakogane and Usu sites, relied 50 to 80 percent on large marine animals (largely pin- nipeds and dolphin) rather than on other marine fauna (Minagawa and Akazawa 1992:64, Fig. 5). In other areas of Japan, isotopic analyses showed far less dependance on marine resources.

AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 65, No. 3,20001

Along with its large deposits of dolphin bone, Mawaki is much like Eel Point and Little Harbor dur- ing the Middle Holocene in other respects. It has a large embayment and warmer waters than other nearby areas of the coastal sea (Hiraguchi 1992:36; Miyazaki and Hiraguchi 1986; Miyazaki et al. 1974).12

In summary, the technique of driving small cetacean herds onshore with simple watercraft and little or no technology appears to have been widely practiced in numerous coastal or island locations during the Holocene. While there is no direct evi- dence of dolphin driving in the Southern California islands or on the Baja California peninsula, a simi- lar technique could have been used there. We do not imply from these global illustrations that the early dolphin hunters of this hemisphere were associated with the other island cultures. However, these ethno- graphic analogs demonstrate the simplicity and ease with which dolphin may be captured. We are will- ing to hypothesize that the biological vulnerability of the dolphin to being driven onshore was easily rec- ognized by the California islanders or the people of the Baja California Cape Region. From there it would be a simple step to devise a localized hunting tech- nique using only dugouts and some simple driving scheme to herd numbers of dolphins into embay- ments. The ease with which numerous dolphin could be captured supports their potential as high-ranked prey for some prehistoric peoples. Dolphins yield more food energy per individual than pinnipeds, and when easily captured and dispatched, it is under- standable that they could become the highest-ranked prey for maritime people.

The Enigmas

The dolphin-bone collections reported in this paper pose numerous research challenges. Foremost among these are: Who were the dolphin hunters? How did they hunt dolphin? Why did the dolphin exploitation cease in the Late Holocene?

1)As to the origin of the dolphin hunters, hypothe- ses abound. The dolphin hunters might have been dis- placed big-game "Hunting People" from the Great Basin (Rogers 1929:357) or an immigrant group of "Extrafios" with highly developed maritime hunting skills (Harrison and Harrison 1966). They might have been local colonizers who settled on the islands dur- ing a coastal migration from the north and quickly adapted their techniques for obtaining marine resources (Meighan 1959).

Various lines of evidence have recently come to light supporting the scenario of a Late Pleis- toceneIEarly Holocene coastal migration of Asian populations (Aigner 1976; Johnson 1977; Fifield 1996; Heaton quoted in Freeman 1996; Bryan quoted in Freeman 1996; Josenhans et al. 1997; Josenhans quoted in Munro 1998; Pringle 1998; Fiedel 1999). There can be little doubt that people capable of full- time maritime subsistence were among the first to visit the Americas and inhabit the off-shore islands.

2) How did they manage to capture the dolphins? Did they manufacture flotillas of dugouts for pelagic hunting? Did they employ a driving technique? Did they use large projectile points hafted to spears? Were multiple boatmenlhunters (and possibly netters) organized for a communal dolphin harvest? We don't have the answer to any of these questions. No rem- nants of dugouts have been found at Eel Point or Lit- tle Harbor, but small lithic canoe "effigies" are sometimes recovered in the southern islands.Yet, we know that in other parts of the world early immi- grants, even those preceding Homosapiens, had sea- worthy watercraft some 800,000 years B.P. (Bower 1998:164), and 5,000 years ago the people of the Japanese Islands were driving dolphin pods into shore. The archaeological and ethnographic scenar- ios presented here can only suggest new investiga- tive routes.

3) And finally, why did dolphin hunting in Cali- fornia cease abruptly in the Late Holocene and only occur later in Baja California? Here, again, we can only speculate. It is certainly possible that dolphin hunting in the Cape Region represents an entirely independent adaptation from that on the Southern California islands. Few data address this question, but there are numerous avenues for conjecture: demographic changes, cultural preferences, envi- ronmental stress, a "sea change" in the marine ecosystem, technological innovation, geological changes, or an as-yet undiscovered property of opti- mal foraging theory.

No data touch directly on population changes or preferential "taste" changes. But new data are being developed on environmental and ecological fluctu- ations and the stresses produced by these changes. We now know of brutal and long-term Late Holocene droughts which may have rendered certain locations uninhabitable and some activities futile (Graumlich 1993; Jones et al. 1999; Pefialba and Van Devender 1998; Stine 1994). Severe droughts would have turned the poorly watered Channel Islands and Baja California peninsula into nearly total deserts. Increases in intergroup violence and decreased human health mark California coastal populations during the Late Holocene (Lambert 1993; Lambert and Walker 199 1).

As to sea changes, Kennett's data (1998) indicate that during the Late Holocene the waters of the Cal- ifornia Bight were cooler than during the Middle Holocene; this is generally considered a propitious marine ecology (Glassow 1997; Glassow et al. 1988). What effect, if any, this may have had on dolphin hunting is unknown.

Data from San Clemente and Santa Catalina Islands indicate a sizable increase in reliance on fish after the invention of the circular fishhook ca. 3,500 years ago (Raab et al. 1995). Whether cause or effect, the relationship of intensified fishing to marine mam- mal hunting is still being explored.

We also must consider the possibility of alter- ations in site usage due to geological or sea-level deep submarine Santa Cruz Canyon and is immedi- ately adjacent to a large embayment. In 6900 B.C. and 6000 B.C. coastal reconstructions, Glassow (1999) points out that Punta Arena and small, off- shore Gull Island were joined in a promontory of land thrusting directly toward the submarine canyon (much like Eel Point thrusting into Eel Ridge Canyon). This promontory, as well as an Early Holocene seaward extension of Morse Point, would have closely encircled and offered considerable pro- tection to the large adjacent embayment. As at Eel Point and Little Harbor, the Earlymiddle Holocene sea levels would have made the deep canyon and pos- sibly more pelagic species all the more accessible to coastal peoples. While focusing on marine inverte- brates rather than marine mammals, Glassow stresses that this markedly distinctive coastline would have harbored a vastly different marine fauna than known at present.

Finally, we must always consider and continue searching for as-yet undescribed principles of hunt-

changes. Reconstructing the ~OOO-B.P.[~~~T~] ing and foraging theory which might have mandated


line at Eel Point (from dating in Bard et al. 1990; Fairbanks 1990), we find that sea level was about 25 m lower than at present, placing the shoreline within .27 km of Eel Ridge Canyon and locating the Eel Point site some .36 km farther from the water. The same 230~h/234~

curve (Bard et al. 1990; Fairbanks 1990) yields a 7500-B.P. [230~h]

sea level about 15 m lower than present at Little Harbor. This places the present archaeological site further inland (yet high on a cliff), but brings the shoreline to within 1.1km of the brink of the Catalina Canyon. Thus, in the Early and Middle Holocene the islanders had almost direct contact with the deep submarine canyons which could have brought pelagic species such as dolphin (or large pelagic fish) well within range of dugouts." In the later Holocene, as sea level rose, the canyons were more remote, possibly increasing the difficulty of dolphin hunting. The possibility of geologic change affecting subsistence in such an extreme manner is entirely speculative at this point, but it certainly presents new research challenges.

It is interesting to note that the Punta Arena site on Santa Cruz Island, which also has produced notable quantities of dolphin bone dated to the Mid- dle Holocene (Glassow 1999), has Early and Mid- dle Holocene geological characteristics similar to those of Eel Point and Little Harbor. Like these other sites, Punta Arena is favored by proximity to the such a change in subsistence pattern.


For the present, we are left with remarkable but unex- plained archaeofaunal records from what may be highly specialized sites. It is problematic whether conditions at these sites were rare and fostered a unique lifeway based on dolphin hunting or if these findings are indicative of a wider-based, richer mar- itime adaptation. We need to test if these findings are truly atypical or if other directives of the maritime lifeway were involved. We need to assess the geo- graphical and chronological range of this specialized way of life. To do this, California archaeologists need to be aware of the potential for evidence of a dol- phin-focused maritime adaptation when exploring coastal and island sites and consider it in models and interpretations of prehistoric life.

Acknowledgments. We are indebted to Mark Raab of CSUN for the opportunity to study the 1991 Little Harbor and the 199411996 Eel Point collections and for sharing the Eel Point radiocarbon dating information. He also provided funding, through CSUN, for radiocarbon dates from the Baja California site. Andrew Yatsko of the Navy's Natural Resources Office gave us the opportunity to participate in the Eel Point projects. Patricia Moore, former curator of the Catalina Island Museum at Avalon, granted permission to study the 1973 archaeofauna curated there. Nelson Leonard I11 provided detail and clarification on the 1973 Little Harbor project. Tom Wake, director of the UCLA Zooarchaeology Laboratory; Fritz Hertel, curator of the Dickey Biological Collection at UCLA; Dave Janiger of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History; and Luis Alberto Herrera Gil and Fermine Reygadas Dahl of the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur were helpful and gracious as we used their facilities and comparative collections to identify the marine mammal bone. Professor Tetsuo Hiraguchi of Kanazawa Medical University provided much data on the Jomon dolphin hunting cultures. Rusty Van Rossman prepared Figure 1 and Christine Fiore drew the Eel Point site map. We are especially indebted to Mike Glassow and the anonymous reviewers of this paper who were inter- ested enough to submit meaningful comments and criticisms which vastly improved it.

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1. Pinnipeds native to the southern islands include the California sea lion (Zalophus califomianus), elephant seal (Mirounga angustirosfris), and the more pelagic harbor seal (Phoca vitulina). Prehistorically, and prior to its near extirpa- tion by historic furhunters, the southern (Guadalupe) fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi) also was plentiful in the southern islands. On rare occasions a few more northerly pinnipeds such as the northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) or Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubata) visit the southern islands. The most com- mon small cetaceans known to visit the islands include the bot- tlenosed dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus), two species of common dolphin (Delphinus delphis and D. capensis), Pacific white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), northern right whale dolphin (Lissodelphis borealis), spinner dolphin (Sfenella longirosfris), Pacific spotted dolphin (S. attenuata), blue and white dolphin

(S. coeruleoalba), harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), and the pilot whale (Globicephala tnacrorhynchus), among others (Jameson and Peeters 1988).

2. No coastal or island sites other than those reported in this paper have yielded large quantities of dolphin bone (e.g., Colten 1991, 1993, 1995; Glassow 1980, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996; Glassow and Wilcoxon 1988; Lyon 1937; Tartaglia 1976;

E. F. Walker 1951; P. L. Walker 1977; P. L. Walker and Craig 1979; P. L. Walker and Snethkamp 1984; Wallace 1956).

  1. The island has no terrestrial mammals suitable for food. Only two small animals are native there: the miniature island fox (Urocyon liftoralis), which is smaller than a house cat, and a minuscule deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). There is no evidence that the fox was included in the human diet, although its pelt was used and the animal was sometimes kept as a pet or for ritual use (Collins 1991).


  2. D. delphis (common dolphin), Z truncafus (bottlenosed dolphin), L. borealis (northern right whale dolphin), S. coeruleoalba (blue and white dolphin), and L. obliquidens (white-sided dolphin).


  3. These percentages represent an expansion and refine- ment of data presented earlier in Raab et al. (1995).


  4. Early Holocene data for Little Harbor are based on a sin- gle 10-cm level in a 1-x-1-m unit (.lo m3). Thus, the high Early Holocene percentage of dolphin may be the result of extreme small sample bias.


7. Z truncatus (bottlenosed dolphin), G. griseus (Risso's dolphin), D. delphis (common dolphin), L. obliquidens (Pacific white-sided dolphin), L. borealis (northern right whale dol- phin), S. longirosfris (spinner dolphin), and P. phocoena (har- bor porpoise). The quantity of dolphin bone at Thousand Springs may be somewhat understated since unidentifiable cetacean bone from the larger dolphin species such as G. griseus or Z truncatus may have been quantified under the gen- eral category of "Large Cetacean."


INAH sample 1778: measured 14C = 1340 + 50 B.P., '3~1'2~

  1. Although fragmentay, some of the points are tentatively classified as ILB2a2 or UA3 types per Massey 1966:40.


ratio +2.7 0100, adjusted age 1790 + 50 B.P., calibrated age A.D. 1052-1218, one-sigma intercept (mean) 1154 (BETA- 126354). INAH sample 1779: measured I4C =1310 + 40 B.P., 13C/12C ratio = +2.1 0100, adjusted age = 1760 + 50 B.P., cali- brated age A.D. 1077-1246, one sigma intercept (mean) 1180 (BETA-126355). Both dates calibrated with Quaternary Isotope Laboratory Calib 4.0 (1998) using a marine reservoir (delta-R) value of 520 + 40.

  1. Common dolphin 40 (53 percent), blue and white dol- phin 17 (23 percent), spinner dolphin 4 (5 percent), Risso's dol- phin 4 (5 percent), bottlenose dolphin 3 (4 percent), white-sided dolphin 3 (4 percent), Pacific spotted dolphin 2 (2.7 percent), and other Stenella sp. 2 (2.7 percent).


  2. The seven dolphin species addressed in this paper have average body weights of approximately 121 kg. The two pin- nipeds most commonly found in the reported middens (sea lion and southern fur seal) average 272 kg for males and 78 kg for females. Because few males of either pinniped species were identified in the bone collections (based on notable sexual dimorphism), exploitation of rookery females was indicated and only female weights are considered (calculated from weights reported in Bleitz-Sanburg [1987]; Orr and Helm [1989]). Small cetaceans and pinnipeds both yield 82 percent of total body weight as edible portions, flesh, blubber, and organs (Kanwisher and Ridgway 1983). Thus, an average adult female pinniped would yield about 64 kg of flesh while an average dol- phin would yield about 99 kg, or about one-third more food.


  3. Kennett (1998: 123) reports that during several sustained Middle Holocene periods, the waters of the Santa Barbara channel were much warmer than in the Late Holocene. This beneficial environment might have aided the dolphin harvest in the southern islands.


13. Although questioned by Arnold et al. (1997), Salls

. .

(1988) has reported a predominance of large, pelagic fish of the tuna family (i.e., scombridae) in the midden at Little Harbor.

Received February 19, 1999; accepted September 16, 1999; revised November 1, 1999.

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