Three main hypotheses are commonly employed to explain diachronic variation in the relative abundance of remains of large terrestrial herbivores: (1) large prey populations decline as a function of anthropogenic overexploitation; (2) large prey tends to increase as a result of increasing social payoffs; and (3) proportions of large terrestrial prey are dependent on stochastic fluctuations in climate. This paper tests predictions derived from these three hypotheses through a zooarchaeological analysis of eleven temporal components from three sites on central California’s Pecho Coast. Specifically, we examine the trade-offs between hunting rabbits (Sylvilagus spp.) and deer (Odocoileus hemionus) using models derived from human behavioral ecology. The results show that foragers exploited a robust population of deer throughout most of the Holocene, only doing otherwise during periods associated with climatic trends unfavorable to larger herbivores. The most recent component (Late Prehistoric/Contact era) shows modest evidence of localized resource depression and perhaps greater social benefits from hunting larger prey; we suggest that these final changes resulted from the introduction of bow and arrow technology. Overall, results suggest that along central California’s Pecho Coast, density independent factors described as climatically-mediated prey choice best predict changes in the relative abundance of large terrestrial herbivores through the Holocene.


Social and Behavioral Sciences



URL: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/ssci_fac/33