Territoriality and the rise of despotic social organization on western Santa Rosa Island, California

Christopher S. Jazwa, Douglas J. Kennett, B. Winterhalder, Terry L. Joslin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Changes in social organization accelerated on California's northern Channel Islands beginning around 1300 cal BP. These changes were associated with shifts in settlement and subsistence patterns related in part to drought conditions during the Medieval Climatic Anomaly (MCA; 1150-600 cal BP). By the end of the MCA, settlement patterns demonstrate evidence for territoriality and can be described by the ideal despotic distribution. The occupants of the most productive habitats prevented new settlers from moving in and accessing the available resources. We use faunal data from five sites on western Santa Rosa Island (CA-SRI-15, -31, −97, −313, and −333) to trace changes in settlement and population aggregation through this period. Fishing, which can support higher population densities than harvesting shellfish, increased overall from the Middle (2550-800 cal BP) to Late Period (650-168 cal BP), but there were fewer settlement sites on western Santa Rosa Island. In the centuries before the Middle to Late Period Transition (MLT; 800-650 cal BP), people occupied sites geographically dispersed along the west coast of the island. After the MLT, fishing was restricted to fewer large coastal villages. We argue that environmental stress and an increase in warfare on the northern Channel Islands drove the growth of more permanent consolidated villages, the development of territoriality, and settlement patterns consistent with greater resource defense and therefore a more despotic distribution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-56
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary International
StatePublished - May 30 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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