My future research is aimed at learning more about the lifeways of the people who created the red abalone middens.  The research may be characterized as a series of objectives, some long-term and others short-term.

Refinement of the chronology of red abalone midden: I’ll be obtaining radiocarbon dates for the remaining red abalone middens so far recorded and those yet to be discovered and recorded.  In addition, I plan to obtain more radiocarbon dates for many of the sites for which only one date is available in order to determine the length of time during which they were occupied.  This information will help in determining whether population size during the period between 6,300 and 5,300 years ago grew, declined, or remained stable.

Documentation of additional red abalone middens: I’m planning a survey of a remote section of the southwestern coast of the island that neither my colleagues nor I have included in previous survey projects.  All sites located would be recorded, but the objective would be to determine whether red abalone middens exist along this section of coastline.  I would also like to learn more about the distribution of red abalone middens that are set back from the coast.  Three have been found up Cañada Christy, two of which are buried under more than a meter of later deposits, which implies that locating inland red abalone middens may be largely a matter of fortuitous circumstances when investigating sites with later deposits.

Explication of geographic and temporal variation in diet: I hope to learn more about the relative importance of different plant and animal taxa and how relative importance changed over the 1,000-year period during which red abalone middens were created.  Learning more about geographic variation in diet would reveal something about adaptation to environmental conditions at the location of each red abalone midden, and perhaps also how far foraging for food resources extended from a given site.  If temporal variation in diet is discovered, it could be the result of environmental change that affected the distribution and abundance of particular food resources or intensification (or de-intensification) in the use of particular food resources due to population growth (or decline).

Explication of settlement systems: My colleagues and I have proposed two quite different models of settlement systems to account for the known variation among red abalone middens.  In one of the models, people were logistically mobile, that is, they spent most of their time living at a main residential base but also occupied camps for brief periods to acquire food resources for transport back to the main residential base.  A large red abalone midden near the western extreme of the island, CA-SCRI-333, may be such a residential base, and most much smaller red abalone middens may be the camps.  In the other model, people were residentially mobile, that is, they moved between residential bases, leaving one when nearby food resources were no longer as productive due to human predation as they were in the vicinity of another.  Because some localities were more productive than others, the lengths of stays varied, and consequently the volume of deposits at red abalone middens varied.  The two largest sites, CA-SCRI-333 and the Punta Arena site, both are in locations of much higher marine productivity than at locations of other red abalone middens, and people would be expected to reside at these locations longer than at other red abalone midden sites.  This pattern of mobility may have entailed residence at smaller red abalone midden sites for just a few weeks and residence at larger red abalone midden sites for a month or more during a given year.  Variants or combinations of these two models also may account for the known characteristics of red abalone middens.  It is possible, of course, that the nature of settlement systems changed over the 1,000-year period during which they were created.  Testing alternative models of settlement systems will require robust samples from red abalone middens of varying size and in varying habitats, including food remains, artifacts associated with food acquisition and processing, and products of tool manufacturing and maintenance activities.  Of critical importance will be evidence of season of occupation, assuming that some red abalone midden sites were occupied only during particular seasons.

Investigation of technological change: The evidence of dolphin hunting and off-shore fishing by occupants of the Punta Arena site implies that relatively seaworthy watercraft were in use during the period between 6,300 and 5,300 years ago.  Deposits earlier than 6,300 years ago at the Punta Arena site contain no evidence of dolphin hunting, and the bones of fish are of species that most likely were caught from shore.  Therefore, it appears that watercraft either began to be used more intensively sometime around 6,300 years ago, perhaps correlating with improvement in watercraft capability.  A second technological change appears to be the introduction of the stone mortar and pestle for food processing.  Coastal sites on the mainland have yielded evidence that the stone mortar and pestle began to be used around 5,500 years ago, if not a few hundred years earlier.  A mortar fragment and a pestle have been found at one of the smaller red abalone middens, indicating their use about this time on Santa Cruz Island as well.  They may have been used to process certain food resources—ones that had become relatively important to the diet.  A third technological change may have been the initial use of stone digging-stick weights.  At the time of European colonization, these stones were wedged onto slightly tapered digging sticks, which were used to dig up bulbs and corms as food products.  There is some possibility that digging-stick weights occur in sites as early as 8,000 years ago, but this early date is still uncertain.  They were clearly in use by the time red abalone middens were being created, and their presence may indicate another important dietary change.  I anticipate that larger samples of artifacts from red abalone midden sites will shed light on these technological changes and their implications for dietary change.

Investigation of social change: Social organization of people living on Santa Cruz Island between 6,300 and 5,300 years ago probably was relatively simple.  Nonetheless, it may have become more complex that it was prior to 6,300 years ago.  This is implied by the apparently more intensive use of watercraft and the presence of artifacts made of deer bone.  Deer are not native to the island, so any deer bone had to come from the mainland.  Burials at CA-SCRI-333, excavated in 1927, not only were associated with deer-metapodial hairpins but also shell beads in quantities larger than with burials at other sites dating earlier in time.  Although archaeological evidence of the nature of social organization typically is very elusive, various other sorts of evidence of social organization, even if only indirect, may come to light as more red abalone middens are investigated.

scri-333 fr air

Aerial view of site CA-SCRI-333, located on a low knoll in the center of the frame



scri-549 fr inland.jpg

Site CA-SCRI-549, located at the edge of a seacliff



549 augering

Using a bucket auger to discover buried red abalone midden deposits at site CA-SCRI-549



scri-549 mortar

Stone mortar fragment in gully wall at site CA-SCRI-549



549 dig stk wts

Perforated stones (digging-stick weights) eroding from a gully wall at site CA-SCRI-549



pta arena gorges

Bone fishing gorges from the Punta Arena site. The uppermost one may the barb of a compound fishhook or spear.