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Large Projectiles and the Cultural Distinction of Southern Baja California: A Reexamination

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Large Projectiles and the Cultural Distinction of Southern Baja California: A Reexamination

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William C. Massey proposed that bow-and-arrow technology only replaced the atlatl and dart in the Cape Region of Baja California Sur as late as the middle of the seventeenth century AD. This has been taken as an indication of the relative cultural isolation of the southern peninsula from the remainder of North America, where such a transition generally occurred 1,000 years earlier. However, a reexamination of the early historical evidence suggests that the use of larger projectiles coexisted with the use of the bow and arrow on a sustained basis, both in the Cape Region and throughout the Californias. The advent of the bow and arrow figures prominently in the prehistory of North America. The new system constituted a notable technological advance over its predecessor, the atlatl and dart, providing improved range, accuracy, portability, and stealth. Archaeologically, the innovation is conspicuously signaled by the appearance of small stone projectile points. Questions of anthropological interest concern the rapidity with which the new technology spread to various regions on the continent and the extent to which it replaced or merely supplemented earlier technologies.
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Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Volume 39, Numbers 2 & 3
Large Projectiles and the
Cultural Distinction of
Southern Baja California:
A Reexamination
Don Laylander
Abstract
William C. Massey proposed that bow-and-arrow technology
only replaced the atlatl and dart in the Cape Region of Baja
California Sur as late as the middle of the seventeenth century
AD. This has been taken as an indication of the relative cultural
isolation of the southern peninsula from the remainder of North
America, where such a transition generally occurred 1,000
years earlier. However, a reexamination of the early historical
evidence suggests that the use of larger projectiles coexisted
with the use of the bow and arrow on a sustained basis, both in
the Cape Region and throughout the Californias.
The advent of the bow and arrow figures
prominently in the prehistory of North America.
The new system constituted a notable technological
advance over its predecessor, the atlatl and dart,
providing improved range, accuracy, portability,
and stealth. Archaeologically, the innovation
is conspicuously signaled by the appearance
of small stone projectile points. Questions of
anthropological interest concern the rapidity with
which the new technology spread to various regions
on the continent and the extent to which it replaced
or merely supplemented earlier technologies.
William C. Massey (1955, 1957, 1961a, 1961b), a
pioneering archaeologist in the Cape Region of Baja
California Sur (between Isla Partida and Cabo San
Lucas), called attention to early historic evidence
from that region. According to W. Massey (1961a:
91), the use of large projectile missiles, such as
the atlatl and dart survived in the Cape Region,
although “on the verge of disappearance,” until the
middle of the seventeenth century. This observation
gave support to the “layer cake” model of Baja
California’s prehistory, advocated by Kirchhoff
(1942), W. Massey, and others. According to the
model, waves of migration or cultural diffusion
were impeded as they moved down the peninsula,
and the relatively isolated south preserved archaic
cultural patterns which were overlain by later
cultural “strata” farther north.
A reexamination of the evidence on this question
is appropriate, both because more of the early
historic record has become accessible since W.
Massey wrote, and because the preferred models
for explaining cultural variability have shifted
from an emphasis on migration and diffusion to an
emphasis on differential adaptive circumstances.
The key issues are (1) whether the atlatl and dart
were in substantial use in the Cape Region during
the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, (2)
whether they ceased to be used there after the
1640s, and (3) whether such use was anomalous in
the context of the early historic Californias.
PCAS Quarterly, 39 (2 & 3)
Laylander12
William C. Massey’s interest in atlatls was
stimulated by his recovery of four archaeological
specimens in a primary flexed burial in the Cape
Region, at Cerro Cuevoso Cave (W. Massey 1955).
The burial was undated, it had no reported historic-
period associations, and it appeared to predate a
later prehistoric burial pattern at the same site.
The archaeological specimens therefore do not
address the question of how late the atlatl continued
to be used in the region. Additional atlatls have
subsequently been recovered in the Cape Region,
also from undated contexts (L. Massey 1972; Molto
and Fujita 1995).
Turning to the early historic evidence, W. Massey
noted that the use of the bow and arrow was
ubiquitous in Baja California, including the Cape
Region, from the time of earliest European contacts.
However, he also found two apparent references to
the use of the atlatl.
The first reference was by Nicolás de Cardona,
referring to a visit to La Paz in 1615-16. Cardona
mentioned the local use of estólicas, which W.
Massey reported to be a standard term in South
America for the dart-thrower. However, Cardona
in fact referred to “estólicas tostadas” (Mathes
1970:258), which has been translated as “fire-
hardened spears” (Cardona 1974:100). Because fire-
hardening of atlatls is unlikely, estólicas evidently
meant darts rather than atlatls, and this evidence for
the use of atlatls is, at best, indirect. In an earlier
report of the same visit, Cardona merely referred
to fire-hardened darts (dardos tostados) (Mathes
1970:60).
William C. Massey’s second reference came from
a Jesuit priest, Jacinto Cortés, who accompanied
the governor of Sonora, Luis Cestín de Cañas, to
the La Paz area in 1642. Cortés reported that fire-
hardened darts (dardos tostados) were “thrown with
an instrument which makes them fly like arrows”
(Pérez de Ribas 1944:2:243). This seems fairly
convincing evidence for the use of the atlatl.
No other historic references to the atlatl in the
Californias have been identified (Appendix 1).
The scarcity of such observations among the
fairly numerous pre-1642 references to bows
and arrows and other projectiles in the Cape
Region calls for explanation. William C. Massey
(1957: 59-60) considered three hypotheses. He
rejected the suggestion that the atlatl might have
been introduced by Spanish early explorers from
mainland Mexico, where the Aztecs and others
used the atlatl. His preferred explanation was
that the device was on the verge of extinction
when it was observed in southern Baja California,
finally succumbing to cultural pressure from the
competing bow-and-arrow weapon system. A
third explanation, mentioned by W. Massey only
in passing, was that most of the observers simply
failed to notice or comment upon the atlatl when
it was present. This alternative seems worthy of
further consideration, particularly for its implication
that the atlatl may also have been in use both in the
south after 1642 and in other regions, where explicit
testimony is lacking.
Acknowledging the problem of incomplete
reporting, W. Massey turned to the slightly less
direct evidence provided by early historical
references to darts (dardos), which the early
observers were careful to distinguish from arrows.
According to W. Massey’s research, “all known
references to darts for the entire peninsula for the
Spanish period” are six: by Sebastián Vizcaíno at
Magdalena Bay and at nearby Santa Marina Bay
in 1602, by Antonio de la Ascención at Cabo San
Lucas in 1602, by Francisco de Ortega at Cabo San
Lucas in 1632 and Isla San Ildefonso in 1636, and
as noted previously by Jacinto Cortés near La Paz
in 1642 (W. Massey 1961a:85). The chronological
and geographical pattern of W. Massey’s dart
PCAS Quarterly, 39 (2 & 3)
Large Projectiles and the Cultural Distinction of Southern Baja California: A Reexamination 13
citations appears significant. All of them predate
1643, and all relate to ethnographic Pericú or
Guaycura territory, except Ortega’s 1636 note,
which refers to southern Cochimí territory.
However, a further examination of the Spanish-
period ethnographic records for Baja and Alta
California reveals a number of additional references
to darts, as well as to various other projectiles
and similar tools, including lances, javelins, and
Fig. 1. Ethnolinguistic territories of the Californias.
PCAS Quarterly, 39 (2 & 3)
Laylander14
harpoons, and to their use in fishing, hunting,
and warfare. These references are summarized in
Appendix 1 and are not limited to the southern
peninsula nor to the period prior to 1643, but occur
throughout the coastal Californias and throughout
the Spanish period (Fig. 1).
The chronological and geographical range of this
additional historic evidence gives little support
to the “layer cake” model positing delayed
replacement of larger projectiles by the bow
and arrow in relatively isolated southern Baja
California. Instead, it suggests that several different
projectile technologies coexisted in the Californias,
apparently on a stable basis for centuries,
presumably serving complementary rather than
redundant functions.
Conclusions
The early ethnographic record concerning
aboriginal projectile technologies in both
Californias is tantalizingly incomplete in many
respects. Future archaeological studies may be able
to fill in many of the gaps. On present evidence,
the following conclusions appear warranted: (1)
The date of the introduction of the bow and arrow
into the Cape Region is unknown. It is possible
that this innovation reached the region substantially
later than other parts of North America, but as yet
there is no persuasive evidence to support that
view. Bows and arrows were documented as being
in use in the Cape Region from earliest historic
times (AD 1535). (2) The atlatl, if its use was
residual in the Cape Region in 1642, had continued
alongside of the bow for at least four generations
(AD 1535-1642), and perhaps for much longer.
Evidence that the atlatl was dropped from the
cultural inventory of the Cape Region peoples prior
to the cultural extinction of those people in the
middle of the eighteenth century is inconclusive. (3)
At least to judge from the frequencies of citations
in the early historic record, darts and other large
projectiles were subordinate in importance to
arrows. Nonetheless, they continued to coexist
throughout the coastal Californias, and throughout
the Spanish period. (4) Some of the large projectiles
mentioned in early historic accounts had stone
points. Archaeologically, while small stone points
may be diagnostic of late prehistoric activity, large
points should not necessarily be taken as indicative
of an early date in the coastal Californias. (5) To
explain the cultural distinctiveness of southern
Baja California, at least in the case of the atlatl,
the culture-historical “layer cake” model, based
on retarded technological diffusion, appears to
have less merit than would an alternative, culture-
ecological explanation, based on the use of multiple
technologies with specialized, complementary
functions, perhaps related specifically to coastal
adaptations.
Acknowledgements
Thanks are due to Eric Ritter and Mike Rondeau
for their helpful comments and suggestions on this
subject.
PCAS Quarterly, 39 (2 & 3)
Large Projectiles and the Cultural Distinction of Southern Baja California: A Reexamination 15
Appendix 1: References to Aboriginal Projectiles other than Arrows in the Californias, 1533-1821
The following references are arranged chronologically. Some refer to tools which were evidently thrust
or swung rather than being thrown, and many others are ambiguous in this respect. Geographically, the
portions of the Californias along the lower Colorado River and north of Cape Mendocino have been
excluded from this survey.
Observer, Date, Citation Ethnic Group, Location Observations
Anonymous 1535 (López de
Gómara 1979:309)
Pericú or Guaycura (La Paz) pointed shafts (varas) used in fishing
Francisco de Ulloa 1539
(Montané 1995:221, 223)
Guaycura (Bahía
Magdalena)
lances (varas) used as weapons
Francisco de Ulloa 1539
(Montané 1995:237)
Cochimí (Isla Cedros) two-handed clubs (palos grandes) used as weapons
Francisco Preciado 1539
(Ramusio 1550-65(3):343)
Pericú or Guaycura (La Paz) finely-made sticks (bastone) (harpoons?) with a handle
(manico) and cord to throw them
Francisco Preciado 1539
(Ramusio 1550-65(3):347)
Guaycura (Bahía
Magdalena)
sticks (bastone) with cords to throw them
Francisco Preciado 1539
(Ramusio 1550-65(3):350-351)
Cochimí (Isla Cedros) sticks (bastone) 3 yards long and thicker than a man’s
wrist; bastinados thicker than a man’s wrist; long sticks like
javelins (zagaglie), with very sharp points
Pedro de Unamuno 1587 (Wagner
1929:494)
Chumash (San Luis Obispo) lances (lanzas) of elder, with fire-hardened oak tips
Sebastián Vizcaíno 1596 (Mathes
1965:264)
Pericú (Cabo San Lucas) fire-hardened poles with points in the manner of darts
(dardos)
Lope de Argüelles Quiñones 1596
(Mathes 1965:1242)
(southern Baja California) fire-hardened poles (palos) as weapons
Sebastián Gutiérrez 1596 (Mathes
1970:267)
Pericú lances (lanzas) with stone points
Sebastián Gutiérrez 1596 (Mathes
1970:267)
Monqui lances (lanzas)
Sebastián Vizcaíno 1602
(Carrasco 1882:74)
Guaycura (Bahía
Magdalena)
small wooden, fire-hardened darts (dardillos) used as
weapons and for fishing
Sebastián Vizcaíno 1602
(Carrasco 1882:88)
Paipai (Bahía Colonet) throwing clubs (garrotillos)
Antonio de la Ascención 1602
(Venegas 1943(3):34)
Pericú (Cabo San Lucas) darts (dardos)
Antonio de la Ascención 1602
(Venegas 1943(3):63-64)
Gabrielino (San Clemente
Is.)
long, thin elder shafts (varas) with a fishbone harpoon
(arpón) on the end attached to a long cord, used for fishing
Gonzalo de Francia 1602 (Mathes
1965:1218)
Monqui darts (dardos) thrown as weapons
Nicolás de Cardona 1616 (Mathes
1970:60, 258)
Pericú or Guaycura (La Paz) fire-hardened darts (estólicas, dardos); harpoons (harpones)
from branches
Diego de la Nava 1632 (Mathes
1970:273)
Pericú darts (dardos) of brazilwood and ebony
Esteban Carbonel de Valenzuela
1632 (Mathes 1970:347-348)
Pericú (Cabo San Lucas) darts (dardos) like lances (lanzas), made of light wood with
heavy, strong wood points; darts and harpoons (ajarpones)
used in fishing
PCAS Quarterly, 39 (2 & 3)
Laylander16
Observer, Date, Citation Ethnic Group, Location Observations
Esteban Carbonel de Valenzuela
1632 (Mathes 1970:352)
Pericú (La Paz) darts (dardos)
Francisco de Ortega 1636 (Mathes
1970:451)
Pericú (La Paz) darts (dardos) used in warfare
Francisco de Ortega 1636 (Mathes
1970:462-464)
Cochimí (north of Loreto) hardwood throwing darts (dardos) used as weapons
Jacinto Cortés 1642 (Pérez de
Ribas 1944(2):243)
Pericú (La Paz area) fire-hardened darts (dardos) thrown with an instrument
making them fly like arrows
Pedro Porter y Casanate 1644
(Mathes 1970:827-892)
Pericú (Cabo San Lucas) small darts (dardillos) thrown; darts (dardos)
Eusebio Francisco Kino 1683
(Burrus 1954:72)
Cochimí (La Purísima) large, fine dart (dardo)
Juan María Salvatierra 1697
(1997:109)
Monqui (Loreto) a stick (estoque) which are used for both fishing and fighting
Francisco María Piccolo 1702
(1962:64)
Monqui or Cochimí darts (dardos) used for hunting and fighting
Edward Cooke 1709 (Andrews
1979:38-43)
Pericú (Cabo San Lucas) wooden fishing spears (with illustrations)
Woodes Rogers 1709 (Andrews
1979:66)
Pericú (Cabo San Lucas) wooden fishing spear
Clemente Guillén 1719-21 (León-
Portilla 1970:106-109)
Guaycura (San Luis
Gonzaga)
small flint-tipped lances (lancillas)
Jaime Bravo 1720 (León-Portilla
1970:62)
Pericú (islanders at La Paz) harpoons (fisgas)
George Shelvocke 1721 (Andrews
1979:90-98)
Pericú (Cabo San Lucas) hardwood fishing harpoons (with illustration)
Anonymous 1731 (Venegas
1979)4:434
Guaycura (Dolores) darts (dardos) used as weapons
Anonymous ca. 1730s (Venegas
1979(4):562)
(southern or central Baja
California)
darts (dardos) and pole lances (lanzas) with fire-hardened
points used for close combat
Sigismundo Taraval 1737
(1996:145)
Pericú (La Paz area) darts (dardos) used as weapons
William Stratford 1746 (Ramos
1958:61)
Kiliwa (San Felipe) curved sticks (palos) like sythes, sharp at one end, used as
weapons
Ferdinand Consag 1751 (Ortega
1944:417-418)
Cochimí curved, flat hardwood throwing stick (palo) for hunting
rabbits and jackrabbits and for fighting
Miguel del Barco ca. 1760s
(1973:70, 193)
(central or southern Baja
California)
harpoon (fisga o arpón) used in fishing; for close combat, in
addition to javelins (venablos) or lances (lanzas), some use
darts (dardos)
Miguel del Barco ca. 1760s
(1973:193, 205, 308)
(northern Baja California) club, pick, and sword-like weapons; small stick (palito)
thrown to hunt rabbits
Johann Jakob Baegert 1761
(1982:231)
Guaycura sharp pointed sticks to pierce and catch fish and turtles
Joaquín Velázquez de León 1768
(1975:24)
(Cape Region) harpoons (fisgas) used for fishing
PCAS Quarterly, 39 (2 & 3)
Large Projectiles and the Cultural Distinction of Southern Baja California: A Reexamination 17
Observer, Date, Citation Ethnic Group, Location Observations
Juan Vizcaíno 1769(1959:11, 16) Gabrielino (San Clemente
Is.)
shafts with three-barbed harpoon points used for fishing
Juan Crespí 1769 (Vicedo
1994:166, 171)
Diegueño (northwest Baja
California, San Diego)
clubs (macanas); long harpoons (fisgas) with bone points
Juan Crespí 1769 (Bolton
1927:39)
Chumash (Santa Barbara
Channel)
well-made reed spears used for fishing
Juan Crespí 1769-72 (Bolton
1927:51; Vicedo 1994:228)
Costanoan (Monterey area) darts or small darts (banderillas) used ritually
Observer, Date, Citation Ethnic Group, Location Observations
Miguel Costansó 1770 (1910:120-
122)
Diegueño (San Diego) curved hardwood throwing sticks; harpoons (fisgas) several
yards long, with a sharp bone point inserted in the wood,
thrown adroitly
Francisco Garcés 1774 (Bolton
1930(2):341-342)
Diegueño (San Sebastian) sickle-shaped clubs (macanas) used to hunt rabbits and deer;
lances with good points used as weapons
Francisco Palóu 1774-76 (Bolton
1930(2):415, 424)
Costanoan (San Francisco
area)
long poles like lances; short lances with flint points used as
weapons
Francisco Palóu 1775
(1926(4):63-71)
Diegueño (San Diego) clubs (macanas)
Pedro Fagés 1775(Portolá
1984:157)
Gabrielino or Tataviam war clubs (macanas) in the shape of sabers, thrown in
hunting and warfare
Pedro Fagés 1775 (Portolá
1984:174)
Chumash (San Luis Obispo) barbed bone tridents (fisgas) used with well-made harpoon
(harpón) for fishing
Francisco Javier de Rivera y
Moncada 1774 (1967:74)
Costanoan (San Francisco
vicinity)
darts (dardos)
Pedro Font 1776 (Bolton
1930(4):131)
Diegueño (San Sebastian) thin, crescent- or sickle-shaped hardwood throwing sticks
(macanas) to hunt rabbits
Pedro Font 1776 (Bolton
1930(4):196)
Diegueño (San Diego) harpoons
José Velásquez 1785 (Ives
1984:196-197)
Diegueño (Carrizo Creek) lances (jaras) used as weapons
Luis Sales 1790 (1794:19-49) (northern Baja California) sticks (palos) for hunting rabbits and otters, and as weapons;
slings (hondas)
José Longinos Martínez 1791
(Bernabéu 1994:159-163)
(central and southern Baja
California)
trident (fisga) and harpoon (arpón) used for fishing; only
bow and arrow used for hunting and war
José Longinos Martínez 1791
(Bernabéu 1994:166)
(northern Baja California) curved stick used to hunt rabbits
José Longinos Martínez 1791
(Bernabéu 1994:223)
Chumash curved, flat clubs (macanas) used to hunt rabbits and other
small game; trident (fisga) used for fishing; harpoon (arpón)
made of shell or flint
José María de Zalvidea 1806
(Cook 1960:246)
Yokuts (Bakersfield area) spear used as weapon
Gabriel Moraga 1808 (Cutter
1957:19)
Nisenan stick like a lance (un palo a modo de lanza), with a flint
blade, is thrown
Juan Martín 1814 (Geiger and
Meighan 1976:114)
Salinan (San Miguel) darts used as weapons
PCAS Quarterly, 39 (2 & 3)
Laylander18
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Laylander22
... Crania recovered from this region and dating to the middle Holocene retained a dolichocephalic morphology — a genetic trait present in earlier Paleoindian crania — long after it had disappeared from the gene pool of other North American populations (Massey 1955). Groups in the Cape Region also 'lagged' behind the rest of North America in adopting the bow and arrow and in discontinuing the use of the atlatl (Laylander 2007; Massey 1961). these unique physical and cultural attributes were used to argue for the extreme isolation of the Cape Region populations, and became some of their most defining characteristics. ...
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