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Identifying Specialized 19th Century Fishing Camps on California's Northern Channel Islands: Applying AMS Radiocarbon Dating to Historical Sites

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2016

Todd J Braje
Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA
Torben C Rick
Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA


California's Northern Channel Islands have long been an epicenter of specialized fishing economies dating from 13,000 yr ago to the mid-19th century. With thousands of well-preserved shell middens, some dominated by single shellfish species and little to no material culture, it can be difficult to distinguish between specialized prehistoric and historical deposits at some site types. Beginning at least in the Early Holocene and continuing into the Historic period, California mussels, turban snails, and abalone were targeted for specialized collection and processing by Native Americans and later Chinese and Euro-American fishers. Here, we demonstrate how selective accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating of specialized abalone processing camps can help distinguish between prehistoric and historical sites. While unconventional, our case study demonstrates the utility of 14C dating at sites less than 300 yr old.

Copyright © 2015 The Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona 

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