California’s Coastal Hunter-Gatherers

A Theoretical Perspective
  • Jon M. Erlandson
Part of the Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology book series (IDCA)


At the time of European contact, California was home to some of the most populous and complex hunter-gatherer societies anywhere in the world. Among Native Californians, cultural complexity generally increased on a gradient from the arid Great Basin on the east, to the better-watered interior mountains and valleys west of the Sierras, to the relatively diverse environments of the Pacific coast. Ethnographically, cultural complexity on the California coast was reflected in the presence of large and relatively sedentary villages, extensive trade and other interaction between groups, and the comparatively elaborate material culture of maritime societies. Historical and ethnographic accounts document the existence of an intricate web of social, political, and economic rules and institutions that governed the behavior of individuals and various social groups (i.e., families, villages, and tribes) in their interactions with their neighbors. Archaeologically, evidence for some of these traits is seen in the existence of many large village sites, in the presence of relatively large and permanent structures at many sites, in the abundance of exotic trade items that indicate extensive commerce, in the accumulation of wealth and status among certain members of society, and in the presence of beautifully wrought tools and ritual objects suggestive of affluence and extensive economic specialization.


Archaeological Record Marine Resource California Coast Faunal Remains Early Site 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jon M. Erlandson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OregonEugeneUSA

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