Food & Fertility in Prehistoric California: A Case-study of Risk-Reducing Foraging Behavior and Population Growth from Santa Cruz Island, California

THAKAR, Heather B. - Temple University

Integration of macrobotanical, faunal, geochemical and chronological datasets demonstrate temporal variation in foraging behavior on the Northern Channel Islands of California. Immediately prior to a period of significant and intrinsic population growth (ca 1500 cal BP) there is evidence of specialization in the exploitation of key plant and animal food resources and decreased population mobility. This paper explores the complex and dynamic interrelationships between foodways, the environment, and macro-demographic changes within prehistoric populations. Referencing recent ethnographic and demographic data from modern foragers, I argue that the adoption of novel risk-reducing foraging behaviors intimately associated with physiological mechanisms that regulate human fertility and mortality contributed to significant demographic increase. These results suggest that prehistoric human population growth did not always instigate major shifts in food acquisition, but rather was, in some cases, a product of subtle changes in the type, quantity, and quality of food resources upon which human foragers relied.