California’s Northern Channel Islands have produced evidence for an extraordinarily sophisticated Paleocoastal technology, with delicately chipped stone projectile points that appear to have been designed specifically for hunting and fishing in aquatic habitats. Most of these artifacts—beautiful stemmed points and crescents—are made from local island cherts, sources of which are found on San Miguel and Santa Rosa islands, what would have been western Santarosae Island until about 10,000 years ago.

Scores of crescents and distinctive Channel Island Barbed (CIB) points from the islands are found in museums, most of them collected by antiquarians or amateurs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when overgrazing caused extensive erosion of archaeological sites. Crescents have long been considered to be an Early Holocene (~10,000 to 7000 years old) artifact in California and western North America, but CIB points were thought to date to the Late Holocene (<3500 years old). Since Mike Glassow (UCSB) first found CIB points in an ~8400 year old shell midden on Santa Cruz Island in the 1990s, however, CIB points and crescents have been found (often together) at numerous island sites dated to between ~12,000 and 8000 years old. Recently, another stemmed point type called a Channel Island Amol (meaning ‘ancient’ in the Chumash language) or CIA point has also been defined. 

Paleocoastal Artifacts from SRI-512Paleocoastal Artifacts from CA-SRI-512

Decades ago, G.G. Heye described CIB points as the finest example of flint-knapping craftsmanship in Native North America. Ultra-thin, with needle-like tips, and long delicate barbs and stems, he described projectile points “entirely too delicate” to have been used in hunting and suggested alternative decorative or ceremonial uses. Today, with hundreds of similar points documented in museums and island archaeological sites, we believe these delicate stemmed points and crescents were used in aquatic hunting, probably of marine mammals, fish, seabirds, and waterfowl.

The crescents and stemmed points found in stratified and well-dated island sites as much as 12,000 years old demonstrates technological and cultural links between the earliest islanders and early peoples of the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau, where similar artifacts are found in many early sites near rivers, lakes, and marshes. Charlotte Beck and George Jones suggested that these early “Western Stemmed Tradition” technologies may be related to a coastal migration from Northeast Asia to the Americas and recent work by Dennis Jenkins (University of Oregon) and his colleagues at Oregon’s Paisley Caves shows that stemmed points are as old or older than Clovis in the Far West. Finally, Paleocoastal Project members (Erlandson and Braje) have speculated that such stemmed points may be technologically related to similar point traditions found in Terminal Pleistocene sites around the Pacific Rim, from Japan to South America.

Paleocoastal Points from Cardwell Bluffs (CIA points at left, crescents at center, CIB points at right)Paleocoastal Points from CA-SMI-678 and CA-SMI-679
(CIA points at left, crescents at center, CIB points at right)