Native acquisition of obsidian in colonial-era central California: Implications from Mission San José

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Elsevier B. V.


In many regions, the mechanisms by which indigenous people acquired lithic materials during the colonial period are only poorly understood. We take on these issues through the examination of more than 1100 obsidian artifacts recovered from the Native American neighborhood at Mission San José (ca. CE 1797–1840) in central California. We conducted a multifaceted analysis of the assemblage, with an eye toward understanding how indigenous people in this region acquired obsidian after the onset of missionary colonialism. Our study included analysis of technological attributes, geological provenance via X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, and dating through obsidian hydration. Our results demonstrate that native people living at Mission San José acquired obsidian both through long-distance conveyance from source areas and through some recycling of archaeological artifacts. We compare our results to regional precontact patterns of obsidian acquisition and conveyance as well as obsidian assemblages from other colonial-era sites in central California. Taken together, our study indicates persistent yet modified pathways of obsidian acquisition in central California during the colonial period.