The Paleocoastal Research Project: An Interdisciplinary Search for Maritime Connections in the Peopling of the Americas

A Collaboration among scholars from the University of Oregon, the Smithsonian Institution, San Diego State University, and other institutions

Project Leaders

Jon M. Erlandson, Museum of Natural & Cultural History and Department of Anthropology, University of                     Oregon (

Torben C. Rick, Human Ecology and Paleobiology Program, Department of Anthropology, National Museum                     of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Todd J. Braje, Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University


Deana Dartt sampling a 7500 year old midden at CA-SRI-177 on Santa Rosa IslandDeana Dartt sampling a 7500 year old midden at CA-SRI-177 on Santa Rosa Island

Focused on California’s Northern Channel Islands and surrounding areas, Paleocoastal Research Project team members are actively investigating early maritime adaptations along the Pacific Coast of North America, as well as broader connections between Paleocoastal peoples and their neighbors in western North America, South America, and the larger Pacific Rim region.

The Paleocoastal Research Project has its origins in archaeological and paleontological excavations at Daisy Cave on San Miguel Island in the 1990s, which identified what was then the oldest shell midden in North America (~11,600 years old) and confirmed the presence of maritime Paleoindians on the Northern Channel Islands. Since that time, with support from numerous grants, philanthropic gifts, and volunteers, our efforts have expanded to identifying and dating a larger number of Paleocoastal sites on various Channel Islands, reconstructing Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene island landscapes and ecosystems, and exploring potential connections between the earliest Channel Islanders and the peopling of the Americas.

Project members have identified more than 50 Channel Island sites dated between about 12,200 and 8000 years ago, defined distinctive Paleocoastal technologies, and contributed to a deeper understanding of how the Channel Islands changed through time, including the breakup of Santarosae Island into the current Northern Channel Islands. Project members have also contributed to the development of the coastal migration theory and kelp highway hypothesis, which has largely replaced the traditional ‘ice-free corridor’ and ‘Clovis First’ models that proposed that the Americas were settled by terrestrial hunting peoples ~13,000 years ago. A growing body of archaeological, genetic, and geological data now suggest that the First Americans followed the coastlines of northeast Asia and southern Beringia into the New World, migrating down the Pacific Coast as much as 15,000 to 16,000 years ago.


Collaborating Individuals and Institutions

Larry Agenbroad, PhD, Mammoth Hot Springs Site, South Dakota (Paleontology)
Amira Ainis, MS, University of Oregon (Zooarchaeology, shellfish)
Scott Anderson, PhD, Northern Arizona University (Paleoecology and pollen analysis)
Paul Collins, PhD, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (Biology, vertebrates)
Robert DeLong, PhD, National Marine Fisheries Service (Marine ecology, pinnipeds)
Rob Fleisher, PhD, Smithsonian Institution (DNA, genetics, paleobiology)
Kristina Gill, PhC, Dept. of Anthropology, UC, Santa Barbara (Paleobotanical analysis)
Michael Glassow, PhD, Dept. of Anthropology, UC, Santa Barbara (Archaeology)
Michael Graham, PhD, Moss Landing Marine Laboratory (Marine ecology; kelp forests)
Amy Gusick, PhD, UC Santa Barbara (Archaeology)
Dan Guthrie, PhD, Claremont Colleges (Paleobiology, bird remains)
Courtney Hoffmann, PhC, University of Maryland (Archaeology, aDNA)
Nicholas Jew, PhC, University of Oregon (Archaeology; lithic analysis, isotope studies)
John R. Johnson, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (Archaeology, mtDNA)
Jesus Maldonado, PhD, National Zoo (Genetics, DNA, paleobiology)
Madonna Moss, PhD, University of Oregon (Zooarchaeology)
Don Morris, National Park Service (retired; Archaeology and paleontology)
Dan Muhs, PhD, US Geological Survey (Paleogeography and sea level history)
Curt Peterson, PhD, Portland State University (Geomorphology and dune history)
Leslie Reeder, PhC, Southern Methodist University (Archaeology, landscape modeling)
Thomas Rockwell, PhD, San Diego State University (Geology and soils)
Thomas Stafford, PhD, Stafford Laboratories (Geochronology)
Rene Vellanoweth, PhD, California State University, Los Angeles (Archaeology)
Jack Watts, PhC, Oxford University (Archaeology)
G. James West, PhD, University of California, Davis (Palynology)
Lauren Willis, PhC, University of Oregon (Archaeology, taphonomy, public interpretation)


Funding Sources

Tracy Garcia and Casey Billings excavating at CA-SMI-678, San Miguel Island
Tracy Garcia and Casey Billings
excavating at CA-SMI-678,
San Miguel Island

Betty Soreng Family Trust
Don Dana Family Foundation
Foundation for Exploration and Research into Cultural Origins
National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis
National Geographic Society
National Park Service
National Science Foundation
Oregon Sea Grant
San Diego State University
Smithsonian Institution
University of Oregon
Watts Family Foundation
Western National Parks Association




Project Publications

Braje, Todd J.
    2010     Modern Oceans, Ancient Sites: Archaeology and Marine Conservation on San Miguel Island,
                    California. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
Erlandson, Jon M.
    2001     The Archaeology of Aquatic Adaptations: Paradigms for a New Millennium. Journal of Archaeological                     Research 9(4):287-350.
    2002     Anatomically Modern Humans, Maritime Adaptations, and the Peopling of the New World. In The                     First Americans: The Pleistocene Colonization of the New World, edited by N. Jablonski, pp. 59-92.                     Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco.
Erlandson, Jon M. and Todd J. Braje
    2007     Early Maritime Technology on California’s San Miguel Island: Arena Points from CA-SMI-575-NE.                     Current Research in the Pleistocene 24:85-86.
    2008     Five Crescents from Cardwell: The Context of Eccentric Crescents from CA-SMI-679, San Miguel                     Island, California. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly 40:(1):35-45.
    2011     From Asia to the Americas by Boat? Paleogeography, Paleoecology, and Stemmed Points of the                     Northwest Pacific. Quaternary International 239:28-37.
Erlandson, Jon M. and Nicholas Jew
    2009     An Early Maritime Biface Technology at Daisy Cave, San Miguel Island, California: Reflections on                     Sample Size, Site Function and Other Issues. North American Archeologist 30(2):145-165.
Erlandson, J.M., Todd J. Braje, and Michael H. Graham
    2008     How Old is MVII?: Seaweeds, Shorelines, and Chronology at Monte Verde, Chile. Journal of Island                     and Coastal Archaeology 3:277-281.
Erlandson, Jon M., Todd J. Braje, Torben C. Rick, Jenna Peterson
    2005     Beads, Bifaces, and Boats: An Early Maritime Adaptation on the South Coast of San Miguel Island,                     California. American Anthropologist 107:677-683.
Erlandson, Jon M., M. H. Graham, B. J. Bourque, D. Corbett, J. A. Estes, and R. S. Steneck
    2007     The Kelp Highway Hypothesis: Marine Ecology, the Coastal Migration Theory, and the Peopling of                     the Americas. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 2:161-174.
Erlandson, Jon M., Douglas J. Kennett, B. Lynn Ingram, Daniel A. Guthrie, Don P. Morris, Mark A. Tveskov, G. James West, and Phillip L. Walker
    1996     Archaeological and Paleontological Chronology for Daisy Cave (CA-SMI-261), San Miguel Island,                    California. Radiocarbon 38:355-373.
Erlandson, Jon M., Madonna L. Moss, and Matthew Des Lauriers
    2008     Living on the Edge: Early Maritime Cultures of the Pacific Coast of North America. Quaternary                     Science Reviews 27:2232-2245.