The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Patterns of interpersonal violence and warfare in the prehistoric San Francisco Bay Area California


1Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, UK, 2Department of Anthropology, California State University, Chico, 3Department of Anthropology, Southern Connecticut State University, 4Department of Anthropology, Ohlone College, 5Department of Anthropology, San Jose State University

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Osteological evidence from hunter-gatherer populations has revealed unambiguous evidence of interpersonal violence throughout the prehistoric record. Recent research has been directed toward understanding the patterns and social implications of violence and warfare among these groups. While evidence of interpersonal violence has been well-documented in populations from the Santa Barbara Channel area of southern California, much less is known about patterns of aggression among the prehistoric inhabitants of the San Francisco Bay Area. Previous research from the region reported relatively high levels of projectile point injuries, as well as moderately high levels of craniofacial trauma. In addition, a pattern of trophy-taking, including the removal of forearms, has been recently documented at a number of sites. The present study provides the first spatial and temporal synthesis of osteological indicators of interpersonal violence from prehistoric central California, and incorporates data from 30 archaeological sites, including new data on late Holocene populations from the San Francisco Bay Area (ca. 3000 BC-AD 1700). Through evaluation of craniofacial trauma, projectile point impacts, trophy taking, demographic patterns, archaeological context, and paleoenvironmental data, we provide a bioarchaeological synthesis of interpersonal violence patterns in the San Francisco Bay Area. Results indicate the highest frequencies of trauma in the Bay Area appear in the Early/Middle Transition and Middle Period, during a time of significant social change marking the incursion of populations from the Central Valley. This research provides a holistic understanding of the social implications of violence and warfare in prehistoric central California, drawing from osteological, archaeological, and ethnographic sources.

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