Human responses to Middle Holocene climate change on California's Channel Islands

Douglas J. Kennett, James P. Kennett, Jon M. Erlandson, Kevin G. Cannariato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

74 Scopus citations

Abstract

High-resolution archaeological and paleoenvironmental records from California's Channel Islands provide a unique opportunity to examine potential relationships between climatically induced environmental changes and prehistoric human behavioral responses. Available climate records in western North America (7-3.8 ka) indicate a severe dry interval between 6.3 and 4.8 ka embedded within a generally warm and dry Middle Holocene. Very dry conditions in western North America between 6.3 and 4.8 ka correlate with cold to moderate sea-surface temperatures (SST) along the southern California Coast evident in Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Core 893A/B (Santa Barbara Basin). An episode of inferred high marine productivity between 6.3 and 5.8 ka corresponds with the coldest estimated SSTs of the Middle Holocene, otherwise marked by warm/low productivity marine conditions (7.5-3.8 ka). The impact of this severe aridity on humans was different between the northern and southern Channel Islands, apparently related to degree of island isolation, size and productivity of islands relative to population, fresh water availability, and on-going social relationships between island and continental populations. Northern Channel Islanders seem to have been largely unaffected by this severe arid phase. In contrast, cultural changes on the southern Channel Islands were likely influenced by the climatically induced environmental changes. We suggest that productive marine conditions coupled with a dry terrestrial climate between 6.3 and 5.8 ka stimulated early village development and intensified fishing on the more remote southern islands. Contact with people on the adjacent southern California Coast increased during this time with increased participation in a down-the-line trade network extending into the western Great Basin and central Oregon. Genetic similarities between Middle Holocene burial populations on the southern Channel Islands and modern California Uto-Aztecan populations suggest Middle Holocene movement of people at this time from southern California desert environs westward to the southern islands, a migration perhaps stimulated by increased continental aridity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-367
Number of pages17
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Volume26
Issue number3-4
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology

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