Calif. find points to ancient seafarers

March 3, 2011 at 8:14 PM

EUGENE, Ore., March 3 (UPI) -- Evidence from islands off the California coast point to a diversified sea-based economy among the inhabitants of 12,200 to 11,400 years ago, researchers say.

University of Oregon and Smithsonian Institution researchers have uncovered projectile points and other stone tools at three sites on California's Channel Islands, a UO release reported Thursday.

The artifacts were found with the remains of shellfish, seals, geese, cormorants and fish, suggesting a sea-based economy, researchers say.

"This is among the earliest evidence of seafaring and maritime adaptations in the Americas, and another extension of the diversity of Paleoindian economies," UO anthropology Professor Jon Erlandson said. "The points we are finding are extraordinary, the workmanship amazing. They are ultra thin, serrated and have incredible barbs on them. It's a very sophisticated chipped-stone technology."

Some of the intact projectiles are so delicate their only practical use would have been for hunting on the water, Erlandson said. The projectile points are very different from the iconic fluted points left throughout North America by peoples who hunted big game on land, he said.

Erlandson has proposed that Late Pleistocene seagoing people may have followed a "kelp highway" stretching from Japan to Kamchatka, along the coast of Alaska, then southward down the Northwest Coast to California.

Kelp forests are rich in seals, sea otters, fish, seabirds, and shellfish like the remains found on the Channel Islands, researchers say.

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