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

Judith F. Porcasi and Harumi Fujita
American Antiquity
Vol. 65, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 543-566
DOI: 10.2307/2694535
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2694535
Page Count: 24
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Abstract

Synthesis of faunal collections from several archaeological sites on the three southernmost California Channel Islands and one in the Cape Region of Baja California reveals a distinctive maritime adaptation more heavily reliant on the capture of pelagic dolphins than on near-shore pinnipeds. Previous reports from other Southern California coastal sites suggest that dolphin hunting may have occurred there but to a lesser extent. While these findings may represent localized adaptations to special conditions on these islands and the Cape Region, they call for reassessment of the conventionally held concept that pinnipeds were invariably the primary mammalian food resource for coastal peoples. Evidence of the intensive use of small cetaceans is antithetical to the accepted models of maritime optimal foraging which assume that shore-based or near-shore marine mammals (i.e., pinnipeds) would be the highest-ranked prey because they were readily encountered and captured. While methods of dolphin hunting remain archaeologically invisible, several island cultures in which dolphin were intensively exploited by people using primitive watercraft and little or no weaponry are presented as possible analogs to a prehistoric Southern California dolphin-hunting technique. These findings also indicate that dolphin hunting was probably a cooperative endeavor among various members of the prehistoric community.

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