Archaeology Magazine

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A History of Violence in California

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

California-Violence-ObisidianpointSAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIFORNIA—A “complex pattern of episodic violence” spanning 5,000 years has been identified in California from a survey of more than 16,000 burials, from 13 different ethnic groups, unearthed between the Sierra Nevada and the San Francisco Bay. The most common type of violence recorded in the survey was caused by projectiles such as arrows or atlatl darts, found in 7.2 percent of the burials. Blunt force trauma head to the head was seen in 4.3 percent of the hunter-gatherer burials. Just under one percent of the burials showed evidence of dismemberment. “Many people still seem to think that prehistoric California was a violence-free paradise, but the archaeological record shows clearly that that was not the case. People are people, and most of us believe that an inclination to resort to violence in certain situations is part of the human condition,” Terry Jones of California Polytechnic State University told Western Digs. The first spike in the violence may have been linked advances in technology, in the form of the atlatl, and the migration of many hunter-gatherer groups to new regions. The second spike took place between 1720 and 1899, when Europeans arrived on the scene. “The introduction of a new weapon system—the bow and arrow—definitely changed the social and political landscape, increasing inter-group conflict,” Jones added.