The Sweetwater Site: Archaeological Recognition of Surf Fishing and Temporary Smelt Camps on the North Coast of California
Carpenter, Timothy R.
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Beach spawning smelt are a small fish that were mass harvested and dried for storage at temporary summer camps by native Californians north of San Francisco Bay. Despite the importance of smelt in the ethnographic diet, we have much to learn about its prehistoric use. Archaeological recognition of smelt camps can be problematic due to a number of cultural and natural taphonomic processes; the identification and fine-grained analysis of roasting pits are one means of associating these otherwise ephemeral sites with smelt fishing. Investigations at Sweetwater, a Tolowa fish camp in Del Norte County, included site survey, archival and ethnographic research, and micro-scale analysis of a roasting pit feature, providing us with a snapshot of what people were eating in a temporary camp. The study provides a model for identification and salvage of these culturally and scientifically significant places, which are severely threatened by coastal erosion and climate change.