Magazine article California History

The Island Chumash: Behavioral Ecology of a Maritime Society

Magazine article California History

The Island Chumash: Behavioral Ecology of a Maritime Society

Article excerpt

THE ISLAND CHUMASH: BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY OF A MARITIME SOCIETY

By Douglas J. Kennett (Berkeley: University of California, 2005, 298 PP., $35 cloth)

THE CHUMASH AND THE PRESIDIO OF SANTA BARBARA: EVOLUTION OF A RELATIONSHIP, 1782-1823

These two books are different in approach and vocabulary but present a valuable chronological continuum and new material in the expanding literature about southern California's Native American people. The Island Chumash describes the settlement patterns, way of life, and trade relationships in this maritime environment during the terminal Pleistocene and Holocene years, touching the historical period only to mention villages on the four northern Channel Islands after contact. Duggan, on the other hand, takes up the narrative after Santa Barbara mission and presidio had already been established, and focuses narrowly on the Indians' complex relationships with the latter.

Kennett draws together updated archaeological and ethnohistoric data to test various explanatory models about subsistence patterns, social organization, spatial and seasonal variation in village locations, population flux, patterns of exchange, and craft specialization. He weighs questions such as whether wealth was a product of, or a basis for, social status in reviewing the development of sociopolitical complexity in the Late Period. One of the most valuable contributions of the book is the review and synthesis of pioneer and current theories about life on the islands, and the degree to which older hypotheses are congruent with new data.

Kennett offers a detailed review of strategies such as maritime foraging, intensification and distribution, and competition within a strong emphasis on the environmental context, and defines his interpretation of human behavioral ecology. Overly simplified here, his model posits the formation of social hierarchies as a density-dependent phenomenon that occurs in regions where resources are unevenly distributed. …

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