Vignettes California coast


As noted earlier, prehistoric peoples of the California coast were hunter-gatherers who focused primarily on exploitation of marine resources. They also ate terrestrial resources, particularly in the Sacramento valley. Exchange was also an important element to their societies (Arnold 1992). To some extent, the exploitation of specific resources was dependent upon the ecology of the region they inhabited. The coast of the mainland provided more carbohydrate-rich plant foods, while the island middens show that those residing there were more dependent upon large fish and sea mammals (Orr 1968). Environmental change can sometimes also be seen in dietary shifts. Some groups, such as those on Santa Rose Island show a shift from higher carbohydrate diets towards a more ocean-based diet.

This is evidenced by a change in the degree of wear visible on the teeth as well as a change in caries rates. High carbohydrate foods (particularly those that require processing prior to eating) are correlated with more dental caries, which are more prominent in earlier periods, and a higher degree of dental wear. These changes did not affect males and females equally. Through time, carious lesions of both sexes declined so that both males and females had approximately the same number. In earlier periods, females are more heavily affected by carious lesions than are males, however (Lambert and Walker 1991: 966). This may be related to the changes in oral chemistry of females during pregnancy (see Chapter 3). For example, about 14% of males and 16% of females had caries in the molars in the later marine group as compared to earlier periods, which showed approximately 24% for males and 30% for females for the same teeth.

Fishing was an important aspect of life, and would have been accomplished through either fishing from the coast or through the use of watercraft. “Fishing with a gaff-hook-Paviotso.” Credit

FIGURE 5.1 Fishing was an important aspect of life, and would have been accomplished through either fishing from the coast or through the use of watercraft. “Fishing with a gaff-hook-Paviotso.” Credit: Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library; Edward S. Curtis’s “The North American Indian,” 2003. Adapted (color corrected) from the original source: Southern California Shosho- neans. The Dieguenos. Plateau Shoshoneans. The Washo [portfolio]; plate no. 538.

Porotic hyperostosis is a typical marker of health and anemia. When all periods are combined, women had greater expression of anemia. For example, in the 18—30 age category, 23% of males showed evidence of anemia, compared with 34% of the females. For the 30—45 age category, it was 28% of males and 37% of females. For older individuals, this trend reverses. For the 45+ age category, 40% of males and 35% of females showed evidence of anemia. In general, anemia is pervasive within the population. However, some women may be more prone to anemia due to additional blood loss associated with menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth (Hollimon 1991: 464).

To examine change through time with respect to health, Lambert (1993) recorded the presence of periosteal reactions for all adult burials. There are significant changes over time in the number and demography of individuals with periosteal reactions. The number of individuals with periosteal reaction increases throughout

Seed gathering was a common activity and would have provided valuable carbohydrates for the population

FIGURE 5.2 Seed gathering was a common activity and would have provided valuable carbohydrates for the population. “Gathering Seeds — Coast Pomo” by Edward S. Curtis. Adapted (cropped) from the original source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (b&w film copy neg., cph 3c16525) cph.3c16525. Public domain.

the early and middle periods but declines during the late period. Overall males are more affected with periosteal reaction than females. Through time, female periosteal reaction frequencies increase from 40% in the early period to 73% in the late period. For males, this pattern is reversed, with 60% in the early period and 27% in the late period (Hollimon 1991: 465). The reason for this pattern is unclear, but Lambert and Walker (1991) are careful to note that this does not indicate that the overall health of the population becomes healthier with time. Looking at these data in conjunction with dental evidence of childhood stress, the lower frequency of periosteal reactions in men may simply indicate that males may have been engaged in maritime activities removed from densely populated communities and that they may not have been exposed to the same pathogens as the females. The increase in female frequency may indicate a greater exposure to communicable diseases. There is evidence of sexual division of labor within these populations; this social patterning underlies health differences between males and females (Hollimon 1991).

Osteoarthritis is evident in these populations as well. The frequency of arthritis generally increased through time, suggesting subsistence activities relating to intensive marine harvesting and perhaps trading came at a cost to the adults. Although, later-period females showed reduction in arthritis of the vertebral column and knees as compared to earlier periods, this may be a result of a change in women’s roles with women more actively involved with gathering terrestrial resources than males in earlier periods (Walker and Hollimon 1989). During the late period, males have more osteoarthritis in the wrist and elbow compared with early period males. The shoulder and hands in early period males are more arthritic than later period males, however. Changes in weaponry and fishing equipment may underlie some of this variation. Harpoons were used during the early period, and the bow and arrow were more common over time (Walker and Hollimon 1989: 180).

In summary, males and females were under different constraints with respect to health. The sexual division of labor allowed for different health to develop among males and females, a pattern that appears to have begun in childhood (see Chapter 4). Females, because of the biological processes associated with menstruation, childbirth, and lactation, were more likely to be nutritionally stressed than males. As Hollimon notes, the consequences relating to differential health status “allow us to examine economic roles of women and men in this prehistoric society, and discuss the risks they faced by virtue of their activities” (1991: 468).


Violence was a common element of prehistoric California life. Warfare, as well, seems to have played a role in social organization and the formation of chiefdoms over time. Given the important role of violence, understanding its effects on males and females through time is instrumental for a holistic view of human activity. Cranial depression fractures that were fully healed at the time of death suggest that during periods of environmental instability and climate change, violent interactions increased. Beginning with the Late Middle period (around ad 900), the frequency of these fractures increased through time and seems to be linked to population growth and environmental instability (Walker 1989). For example, 19.3% of all adult crania had cranial depression fractures. By sex, 24% of the males and 10% of the females sustained head wounds. Together, 7% of those with cranial fractures had more than one healed fracture. Walker (1989) hypothesized that these may be intentional injuries made in times of fighting, warfare, or other types of interpersonal violence. Many of these injuries are to the face and frontal bone, suggesting face-to-face conflict; additionally the majority occur on the left side of the cranium, suggesting a righthanded attacker (Lambert 1997). Those involved may have included high-status males and females. Cranial injuries are most common in the archaeological sites with low marine activity, suggesting a relationship between increased violence and decreased marine resources. The violence likely not meant to be lethal but, rather, a performance to influence social behavior. Lambert (1997: 89) argues that these nonlethal conflicts serve to diffuse tensions without causing death, which may be preferred over more lethal solutions to social conflict. This is particularly true when important relationships were at stake.

Violence toward women may present a different pattern. Lambert (1997: 89) notes that the location varies more in women than men and that this lack of pattern and lower frequency suggest that males and females were not involved in the same types of violence. She argues instead that these may be the result of violence perpetrated on women by women. Alternatively, she suggests that these may be the result of intimate partner violence, which lacks systematic rules. Regardless of the cause, differences existed in how men and women experienced violent interactions.

Around the same time that interpersonal violence increases, an increase in the presence of projectile injuries and wounds occurs. Weapons were designed to kill, requiring good aim. It is believed that this type of wound is more indicative of warfare. This might also indicate between-group violence (as opposed to the cranial trauma more likely to be related to intragroup social control). Examples of projectile wounds include embedded points found within vertebrae. The group most largely affected by this violence is young adult males between of the ages of 15 and 40 (Lambert 1997: 96). Females of similar age are less than half as likely to be the victim of this type of violence. There is no indication of massacres and individuals with wounds were recovered from community cemeteries that followed the normal burial program. Projectile injuries are similar to those described for known examples of modern tribal warfare (Lambert 1997: 98).

Lethal and nonlethal violence in the California context seem mostly related to the availability of resources. While it is understood that violence is multifaceted in its causes and cannot be strictly linked a single cause (e.g., climate change), for the precolonial California groups, there is a distinct linkage (Walker and Thornton 2002: 514—515). It is likely that violence between groups was related to resource stress. It is also likely that intragroup violence was similarly linked. Intragroup violence may have had a greater role to play, however, in developing hierarchy and negotiating status.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >