California's Northern Channel Islands, sometimes called the American Galápagos and one of the jewels of the US National Park system, are located between 20 and 44 km off the southern California mainland coast. Celebrated as a trip back in time where tourists can capture glimpses of California prior to modern development, the islands are often portrayed as frozen moments in history where ecosystems developed in virtual isolation for tens of thousands of years. This could not, however, be further from the truth.
For at least 13,000 years, the Chumash and their ancestors occupied the Northern Channel Islands, leaving behind an archaeological record that is one of the longest and best-preserved in the Americas. From ephemeral hunting and gathering camps to densely populated coastal villages and Euro-American and Chinese historical sites, archaeologists have studied the Channel Island environments and material culture records for over 100 years. They have pieced together a fascinating story of initial settlement by mobile hunter-gatherers to the development of one of the world's most complex hunter-gatherer societies ever recorded, followed by the devastating effects of European contact and settlement. Likely arriving by boat along a "kelp highway," Paleocoastal migrants found not four offshore islands, but a single super island, Santarosae. For millennia, the Chumash and their predecessors survived dramatic changes to their land- and seascapes, climatic fluctuations, and ever-evolving social and cultural systems.
Islands Through Time is the remarkable story of the human and ecological history of California's Northern Channel Islands. We weave the tale of how the Chumash and their ancestors shaped and were shaped by their island homes. Their story is one of adaptation to shifting land- and seascapes, growing populations, fluctuating subsistence resources, and the innovation of new technologies, subsistence strategies, and socio-political systems. Islands Through Time demonstrates that to truly understand and preserve the Channel Islands National Park today, archaeology and deep history are critically important. The lessons of history can act as a guide for building sustainable strategies into the future. The resilience of the Chumash and Channel Island ecosystems provides a story of hope for a world increasingly threatened by climate change, declining biodiversity, and geopolitical instability.
Chapter 1: Islands Through Time
Chapter 2: Assembling Santarosae
Chapter 3: First Americans, First Islanders
Chapter 4: Islands and Islanders in Transition
Chapter 5: The Island Chumash
Chapter 6: Islands in Upheaval
Chapter 7: Islands of Hope
Recommended Further Readings
About the Authors
Todd J. Braje, associate professor of anthropology at San Diego State University, has spent nearly 15 years exploring the archaeology, ecology, and history of the Northern Channel Islands. He has been editor of the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, currently serves as co-editor of the Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, and is author of Modern Oceans, Ancient Sites (2010) and Shellfish for the Celestial Kingdom (2016).
Jon Erlandson is director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History and professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon. He has published 20 books and hundreds of scholarly articles, many drawing on his nearly 40 years of work on the Channel Islands. In 2013, Erlandson was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Torben Rick is the curator of human-environmental interactions and chair of the department of anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He has active field projects on California’s Channel Islands and the Chesapeake Bay, which are collaborative with researchers from a variety of disciplines and focus on ancient and modern human-environmental interactions.
"This important book brings together three respected authorities on California's Channel Islands. Their collective expertise brings us a timely, and much needed, progress report on a generation of innovative, multidisciplinary research aimed firmly not at specialists, but at a wider audience. This attractively written account will become an essential tool as we all confront the issue of stewardship of the islands for future generations."
– Brian Fagan, distinguished emeritus professor of anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Islands Through Time is an incredible book penned by three notable scholars who weave together an amazing story about human and environmental interactions on the Northern Channel Islands over millennia. This book is a gamechanger in demonstrating how lessons from the past provide crucial baselines for implementing conservation and management goals to make island ecosystems more sustainable and resilient. The book shows why Indigenous people and other relevant stakeholders need to be on the frontlines in protecting and stewarding our island ecosystems in the face of climate change and many other challenges today."
– Kent G. Lightfoot, professor of anthropology, University of California, Berkeley