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Diffusionism Reconsidered: Linguistic and Archaeological Evidence for Prehistoric Polynesian Contact with Southern California

  • Terry L. Jones (a1) and Kathryn A. Klar (a2)

While the prevailing theoretical orthodoxy of North American archaeology overwhelmingly discourages consideration of transoceanic cultural diffusion, linguistic and archaeological evidence appear to indicate at least one instance of direct cultural contact between Polynesia and southern California during the prehistoric era. Three words used to refer to boats - including the distinctive sewn-plank canoe used by Chumashan and Gabrielino speakers of the southern California coast - are odd by the phonotactic and morphological standards of their languages and appear to correlate with Proto-Central Eastern Polynesian terms associated with woodworking and canoe construction. Chumashan and Gabrielino speakers seem to have borrowed this complex of words along with the sewn-plank construction technique itself sometime between ca. A.D. 400 and 800, at which time there is also evidence for punctuated adaptive change (e.g., increased exploitation of pelagic fish) and appearance of a Polynesian style two-piece bone fishhook in the Santa Barbara Channel. These developments were coeval with a period of major exploratory seafaring by the Polynesians that resulted in the discovery and settlement of Hawaii - the nearest Polynesian outpost to southern California. Archaeological and ethnographic information from the Pacific indicates that the Polynesians had the capabilities of navigation, boat construction, and sailing, as well as the cultural incentives to complete a one-way passage from Hawaii to the mainland of southern California. These findings suggest that diffusion and other forms of historical contingency still need to be considered in constructions of North American prehistory.


Itural transoceánica, la evidencia lingüística y arqueológica parece indicar por lo menos un caso del contacto cultural directo entre Polinesia y California meridional durante la era prehistórica. Tres palabras utilizaron para referirse a barcos - inclusive la canoa distintivo de tablón-cosido utilizada por hablantes de Chumashan y Gabrielino de la costa meridional de California - son raros para los estándares fonotácticos y morfológicos de sus idiomas, y parecen tener correlación con los términos polinesios Orientales y Proto-Centrales, asociados con el trabajo de madera y la construcción de la canoa. Hablantes de Chumashan y Gabrielino parecen haber tornado prestado este complejo de palabras junto con la técnica de la construcción de tablón cosido, alguna vez entre 400 y 800 A.D. hay también evidencia del cambio puntual de adaptación (por ejemplo, la explotación aumentada del pez pelágico) y la apariencia de un anzuelo polinesio estilizado de hueso de dos-pedazo en el Canal de Santa Barbara. Estos desarrollos eran contemporáneos con unperíodo de exploración marítima mayor por los polinesios, que tuvieron como resultado el descubrimiento de Hawaii, el puesto polinesio màs cercano a California meridional. La arqueología y la información etnográfica del Pacífico indica que los polinesios tuvieron capacidades para la navegación y la construcción de barcos, así como los estímulos culturales para completar el viaje en una Jornada de Hawaii a la tierra continental de California meridional. Estos hallazgos sugieren que la difusión y otras formas de contingencia histórica todavía necesitan ser consideradas en la construcción de la prehistoria norteamericana.

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American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0002-7316
  • EISSN: 2325-5064
  • URL: /core/journals/american-antiquity
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