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Rhizoliths identified as prehistoric filing tools for fishhook production on San Nicolas Island, California

By Sebastian K.T.S. Wärmländer, Kevin N. Smith, René L. Vellanoweth, Ryan Moritz, Kjell Jansson, Tim Gooding, William E. Kendig, Sabrina B. Sholts

Posted 07 Jan 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.05.425479

Chemical analysis of archeological objects can provide important clues about their purpose and function. In this study, we used scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and chemical spectroscopy (SEM-EDS and XRD) to identify a white residue present on cylindrical rhizoliths from a component at an archaeological site (CA-SNI-25) on San Nicolas Island, California, dated ca. AD 1300 to 1700. The residue was found to consist of biogenic calcite and aragonite particles, different in composition and morphology from the CaCO3 particles in the rhizoliths, but identical to marine shell material. These results, together with observations of surface micro-wear patterning on fishhooks and rhizoliths, replicative experiments, in situ spatial analysis, and other archaeological evidence, show that rhizoliths were used as files in a larger tool kit for crafting shell fishhooks. Our findings shed new light on the technological innovations devised by Native Americans to exploit the rich marine resources surrounding the Channel Islands, and provide the first analytical evidence for the use of rhizoliths as a production tool.

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