Marine Mammals Before Extirpation: Using Archaeology to Understand Native American Use of Sea Otters and Whales in Oregon Prior to European Contact
Tribal ancestors living on the Oregon coast prior to European contact were skilled fisher-hunter-gatherers residing in a rich environment, home to diverse marine mammals. Euro-Americans over-exploited these marine mammals and drove some species to near extinction. Some marine mammal populations rebounded while others, such as the locally extinct Oregon sea otter, never recovered. Threats from hunting are past, but marine mammals on the Northwest Coast today face new challenges, and sea otters and cetaceans are foci of conservation efforts. Despite the interest these taxa enjoy in the present, little systematic study of their use by and relationship with precontact peoples in Oregon has occurred, and this dissertation addresses these gaps in knowledge.To address ancestral tribal use of sea otters and cetaceans I researched previously excavated faunal assemblages. The Par-Tee (35CLT20) and Palmrose (35CLT47) sites located in Seaside, on the northern Oregon coast, were home to the Clatsop and Tillamook at contact. Par-Tee and Palmrose were occupied at different times in the Late Holocene (~1850-1150 cal BP and ~2750-1500 cal BP, respectively). The two sites were excavated in the 1960s-1970s and contained an enormous quantity of well-preserved faunal remains. The Tahkenitch Landing (35DO130) site is located on the central Oregon coast, north of Reedsport, and was home to the Lower Umpqua Indians at contact. Tahkenitch Landing was occupied from the early to mid-Holocene (approximately 5000-3000 BP) and contained a large quantity of whale bones which were previously analyzed, but not identified to species level. I conducted zooarchaeological analysis of the sea otters from Par-Tee and Palmrose (NISP=2992) and cetaceans from Palmrose (N=1174) and Tahkenitch Landing (N=33). With my co-authors, I analyzed ancient DNA from 20 Seaside sea otter specimens and performed Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) and ancient DNA identifications of 158 cetacean specimens. These analyses provided new insight regarding precontact ancestral tribal use of sea otters and cetaceans and the historical ecologies of the animals. This dissertation provides a socio-ecological dataset with implications for potential reintroductions of sea otters and the conservation of cetaceans in Oregon today. This dissertation includes previously published and unpublished co-authored material.
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