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Unformatted text preview: 1 MOUND BUILDING BY CALIFORNIA HUNTER-GATHERERS Kent G. Lightfoot and Edward M. Luby One of the most significant recent developments in North American archaeology is the recognition that hunter-gatherer communities constructed complex and extensive mounded landscapes many thousands of years ago. Twenty years ago most archaeologists believed indigenous mound building was almost exclusively the domain of complex societies boasting sedentary towns and villages, powerful elite classes, and prolific agrarian economies, as epitomized by the Woodland, Mississippian, and Hohokam peoples of the Eastern Woodlands and American Southwest who built platform mounds, burial monuments, and effigy earthworks in late prehistoric times. There is now excellent evidence for much earlier mound construction by non-agrarian groups who fabricated a diverse range of landscape features, including shell mounds, earthen mounds, sand mounds, and concentric or semi-concentric shell rings, dating 7000 to 3000 years ago in the American Midwest, American Southeast, and California. The mounded landscapes produced by hunter-gatherers in North America varied tremendously in their scale, architectural features, spatial layouts, methods, and timing of construction, as well as their associated cultural remains (some contain burials and/or midden deposits, while others are relatively sterile). The purposes of this chapter are twofold. One is to synthesize briefly archaeological findings of hundreds of mounded sites in California used by local hunter-gatherer groups beginning about 5000 years ago and spanning to historic times. The other is to explore how these earthworks compare to those constructed by hunter-gatherers elsewhere in North America. 2 MOUNDED LANDSCAPES IN CALIFORNIA One of the most striking features of the archaeological record in California is the pervasive presence of mounds in coastal, estuary, and riverine areas of the state, from the shores of the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco, south through the central and southern coast out to the Channel Islands, up from the shores of the San Francisco Bay through to the Sacramento- San Joaquin Delta region, and into the great Central Valley, with its many rivers and tributaries. Despite many years of investigation and a long-standing interest in these mounded sites, some of which are the size of a football field and up to several meters deep, a comprehensive synthesis of Californias mounded landscapes has yet to be presented. Significantly, many questions about the mounds remain unresolved. Are these mounded sites the accumulated result of food debris, and were they used as places of habitation or as cemeteries? Were some of the California mounds purposefully constructed, as in other areas of North America? Were they villages, ceremonial centers, resource processing places, or all of the above, and how might have the thousands of mounds in this landscape varied across time and space?...
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- Spring '09