Hunter Gatherer Research

Core-periphery dynamics in the Kern River watershed

Implications for Tubatulabal territorial maintenance during the Late Holocene

Hunter Gatherer Research (2018), 4, (4), 557–587.


This study generates a comprehensive database of archaeological resources to evaluate Late Prehistoric (c 1500-150 cal BP) settlement and land use behaviours in the Kern River watershed of the far southern Sierra Nevada, California. These behaviours are evaluated using a habitat suitability model that relates the spatial distribution of critical subsistence resources present within the study area to suitability. Determining the habitat distribution operating in the Kern River watershed during the Late Prehistoric period is difficult using the model developed here. Settlement and land use behaviours trend towards a free distribution when evaluating all archaeological data associated with the Late Prehistoric period, but the results trend towards a despotic distribution when only incorporating lower elevation sites typically associated with more intensive residential activities. While it is difficult to identify these patterns using the model developed here, it is possible to identify several preferred areas within the study area. Preferred areas in the Kern River watershed are generally located in ecotonal habitats which contain less access to staple resources than peripheral habitats reflecting traditional Californian or Great Basin ecosystems. A settlement and land use strategy focused on ecotonal habitats at the core of the territory promotes territorial maintenance in several ways including creating a physical and social buffer against potential competitors, maintaining access to two staple resource bases and promoting long-term territorial stability among numerous ethnolinguistic populations. These results have implications for our understanding of the range of territorial behaviours practised by foraging groups, particularly low population density groups like the Tubatulabal.

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Author details

Harvey, David C