Arlington Man

©Tim Hauf,
The following was written by Dr. John R. Johnson, Curator of Anthropology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Johnson's career has been devoted to understanding the culture and history of the Chumash Indians and their neighbors in south central California through the study of archeology, archival records, and interviews with contemporary Native Americans. Most recently, Dr. Johnson has headed the team that has been investigating the earliest evidence for people in our region at the Arlington Springs Site on Santa Rosa Island.
Archeologists excavate Arlington Springs on Santa Rosa Island
Archeologists excavate at Arlington Springs on Santa Rosa Island.

Arlington Springs: The Earliest Evidence for Paleoindians in Coastal California
Arlington Springs Man broke into the news following the Fifth California Islands Symposium held at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in 1999. Newspapers, magazines, television news, and radio programs around the world reported on what is arguably the earliest dated human remains in either North or South America. Using a small fragment of a human femur discovered by Phil Orr in 1959 on Santa Rosa Island, modern techniques of bone protein analysis and radiocarbon dating indicate that Arlington Springs Man lived some 13,000 (calendar) years ago. Only one other find in North America, a child burial from the now-destroyed Anzick Site in Montana has ever been dated to this early age.

Arlington Springs Man lived at the end of the Pleistocene when the four northern Channel Islands were all still united together as one mega-island, and the climate was much cooler than today. The evidence that people had arrived on that island by 13,000 years ago demonstrates that watercraft were in use along the California coast at that early date and lends support for a theory that the earliest peoples to enter the Western Hemisphere may have migrated along the Pacific coast from Siberia and Alaska using boats. Recent radiocarbon dating by Dr. Larry Agenbroad of pygmy mammoth fossils from Santa Rosa Island suggests that the last of these unique mammals may have been present on the island at the time the first humans arrived.

An interdisciplinary team of archaeologists and geologists has been investigating the Arlington Springs locality over the past twelve years. In 2001 detailed studies were conducted to date the geological layers at the site and collect information regarding the late Pleistocene environment on Santa Rosa Island. New technologies, such as laser mapping and ground penetrating radar have been used to document the site and gather additional information to guide future research. During the most recent field season, a series of soil cores were obtained that will yield invaluable information about the geological and environmental history of the island.

Last updated: June 7, 2016

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