Trans-Holocene Marine Mammal Exploitation on San Clemente Island, California: A Tragedy of the Commons Revisited
Postprint version. Published in Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Volume 19, Issue 2, June 1, 2000, pages 200-220.
The definitive version is available at https://doi.org/10.1006/jaar.1999.0351.
Occupied from ca. 7040 B.C. to AD. 1400, the Eel Point Site (CA-SCLI-43) on San Clemente Island, California represents one of the longest sequences of near-continuous marine resource exploitation on the west coast of North America. Faunal remains suggest transitions from heavy exploitation of fur seals and sea lions during the early Holocene, to increased hunting of cetaceans at mid-Holocene, to a focus on sea otters and fish during the late Holocene. These trends are consistent with patterns of overexploitation and economic intensification on the California and Oregon mainland, but they also suggest watercraft-based hunting earlier on the island than elsewhere. Fur seal and sea lion bones mainly represent females and juveniles, indicating that exploitation of island rookeries was guided more by self-interest than by principles of game conservation. Two intervals of temporary site abandonment, ca. 6150-3970 B.C. and AD. 1020-1400, were both followed by periods of increased marine mammal exploitation and may reflect intervals during which marine mammal populations rebounded. Broad-scale diachronic trends in the zooarchaeological remains do not correlate with flux in paleo-sea temperatures and are best interpreted as products of overhunting and increased use of watercraft over time.