Rediscovering Huamalgua, the island of fogs: Archaeological and ethnohistorical investigations of Isla Cedros, Baja California

Matthew Richard Des Lauriers
Dept. of Anthropology, University of California, Riverside
July, 2005


This dissertation details the initial stages of archaeological research on Isla Cedros, Baja California Norte, and addresses hypotheses regarding the nature of island societies, their relationship to neighboring mainland populations, and the degree to which near- continent islands can be described as 'insular,' or isolated and economically self-sufficient. The research combines ethnohistoric documents and previous archaeological and ethnographic research along the Pacific coast of North America to provide the comparative backdrop for the history of Isla Cedros. The discovery of two sites with basal strata dated by AMS to over 10,000 rcybp confirms that the earliest occupation of Isla Cedros occurred during the terminal Pleistocene, i.e., before 12,000 cal BP. The importance of this discovery for understanding the peopling of the New World is remarkable and will contribute greatly to the active dialogue on the topic. Village sites larger than any previously expected for central Baja California also contribute to shattering notions of the peninsula as being occupied by small, mobile bands of foragers. These villages provide an opportunity to examine of the development and elaboration of social structures among Pacific coast hunter- gatherers. Sophisticated technologies for exploiting marine resources also have been identified and examined. In contrast to the Channel Islands to the north, no craft specialized industry for the production of durable exchange goods has been identified. This demonstrates that the availability of natural resources is an insufficient catalyst for the emergence of such a socio- economic structure. Instead, the creation, elaboration, and maintenance of social networks are seen as both prerequisite to, and structurally supportive of systems of regional exchange, interaction, and risk sharing. In conceptual terms, the concept of sustained broad spectrum exploitation Chapter 3) provides an alternative explanation for broad-based adaptations. It is possible that an SBSE strategy on Isla Cedros is not only an adaptation to a very rich and diverse environment (Chapter 1), but also a response to the lack of robust economic buffering mechanisms or safety valves for 'excess' population. Placing Isla Cedros within a comparative framework not only fills gaps in our knowledge of historical processes, but begins to build meaningful links of cultural heritage between Baja California, Alta California, and other regions overlooked due to modern political boundaries.