Global patterns of ethnolinguistic diversity vary tremendously. Some regions show very little variation even across vast expanses, whereas others exhibit dense mosaics of different languages spoken alongside one another. Compared with the rest of Native North America, prehistoric California exemplified the latter. Decades of linguistic, genetic, and archaeological research have produced detailed accounts of the migrations that aggregated to build California’s diverse ethnolinguistic mosaic, but there have been few have attempts to explain the process underpinning these migrations and why such a mosaic did not develop elsewhere. Here we show that environmental productivity predicts both the order of migration events and the population density recorded at contact. The earliest colonizers occupied the most suitable habitats along the coast, whereas subsequent Mid–Late Holocene migrants settled in more marginal habitats. Other Late Holocene patterns diverge from this trend, reflecting altered dynamics linked to food storage and increased sedentism. Through repeated migration events, incoming populations replaced resident populations occurring at lower densities in lower-productivity habitats, thereby resulting in the fragmentation of earlier groups and the development of one of the most diverse ethnolinguistic patterns in the Americas. Such a process may account for the distribution of ethnolinguistic diversity worldwide.


Social and Behavioral Sciences



URL: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/ssci_fac/92