Working from the Known to the Unknown: Linking the Subaerial Archaeology and the Submerged Landscapes of Santarosae Island, Alta California, USA

Lay summary authored by Todd Braje. Read the full paper here:

Just 30 years ago, every classroom textbook, scientific presentation, and documentary film told the same story of the Peopling of the New World. The First Americans were terrestrial big game hunters, who followed migrating herds of mammoths and mastodons across the Bering Land Bridge and down the Ice-Free Corridor into the North American heartland. These Clovis hunters used deadly and distinctive projectile point technology to successfully hunt big game and spread from sea to shining sea beginning about 13,500 years ago. Despite some scientific opposition, this story seemed to fit available archaeological, genetic, and paleoenvironmental data.


The Northern Channel Islands geophysical survey study area with the locations of our regional track lines and the four 1 km2 detailed survey box locations. Figure taken from the paper.

This all changed in the 1990s with the discovery and dating of the Monte Verde II site in southern Chile, occupied by humans a thousand years prior to the arrival of Clovis and the cultural complex that was once believed to represent the First Americans. A variety of new archaeological discoveries and genetic and paleoecological data now suggest the First Americans might have arrived in boats, following New World Pacific coastlines. Rigorous scientific testing of this hypothesis has been difficult due to the flooding of paleocoastlines by rising sea levels as global ice turned to water and melted into our world’s oceans after the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago. The shorelines these early migrants would have followed are now, for the most part, underwater. Here, we describe efforts to locate where submerged archaeological sites might be found in southern California, along the paleoshorelines of the Northern Channel Islands. These islands contain the highest concentration of Paleocoastal sites in all of the Americas and may be key to helping us uncover evidence of the First Americans. We developed a predictive model to refine massive search areas and offshore geophysical mapping and coring to test high probability areas for evidence of submerged archaeological sites.

Full paper:

Braje, T.J., Maloney, J.M., Gusick, A.E., Erlandson, J.M., Nyers, A., Davis, L., Gill, K.M., Reeder-Myers, L. and Ball, D., 2019. Working from the Known to the Unknown: Linking the Subaerial Archaeology and the Submerged Landscapes of Santarosae Island, Alta California, USA. Open Quaternary, 5(1), p.10. DOI:

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