Ideal free settlement of California's Northern Channel Islands

Bruce Winterhalder, Douglas J. Kennett, Mark N. Grote, Jacob Bartruff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


The prehistoric establishment and expansion of permanent settlements on the Northern Channel Islands of southern California generally follows a pattern predicted by the population ecology model, the ideal free distribution (IFD). We determine this by comparing the abundant archaeological record of these Islands against a careful quantification of habitat suitability using areal photography, satellite imagery, and field studies. We assess watershed area, length of rocky intertidal zone, length of sandy beach for plank canoe pull-outs and area of off-shore kelp beds, for 46 coastal locations. A simple descriptive analysis supports key IFD predictions. A Bayesian model fitted with the Gibbs sampler allows us to reconstruct the Native assessment of habitat that appears to underlie this process. Use of the Gibbs sampler mitigates the impact of missing data, censored variables, and uncertainty in radiocarbon dates; it allows us to predict where new settlements may yet be discovered. Theoretically, our results support a behavioral ecology interpretation of settlement history, human population expansion, and economic intensification in this region. They also demonstrate Bayesian analytical methods capable of making full use of the information available in archaeological datasets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)469-490
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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