The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1989, Volume 35, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Review

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

San Dieguito-La Jolla: Chronology and Controversy.

Edited by Dennis Gallegos. San Diego: San Diego County Archaeological Society, Research Paper No. 1, 1987. Bibilographies. Illustrations. Map. 89 Pages. $8.00. Softcover.

Reviewed by Michael J. Moratto, President of INFOTEC Research, Inc., and Research Associate of the California Academy of Sciences; author of California Archaeology (1984) and other works on the prehistory of western North America.

This is a cohort of seven papers, presented initially at a Society for California Archaeology symposium in 1985, together with a concluding chapter written later. The purpose of the book is to elucidate the San Dieguito and La Jolla Complexes in San Diego County prehistory. Among the issues considered are human antiquity in southwestern California, dating the two complexes, their respective or common origin(s), and the nature of economic and technologic relationships between them. Eight well-known authors have contributed to this first San Diego County Archaelogical Society Research Paper, funded by WESTEC Services, Inc., and edited by Dennis Gallegos.

In the opening chapter Richard Carrico reviews significant archaeological studies in San Diego County between 1920 and 1985. Carrico highlights M. J. Rogers’ (1945) view that the San Dieguito (“Scraper-Maker”) and La Jolla (“Shell Midden”) complexes were culturally and temporally separate, D.L. True’s (1959) recognition of a Pauma Complex distinct from both San Dieguito and La Jolla, and R. Kaldenberg’s (1982) affirmation of continuity from San Dieguito into La Jolla. Chapter one thus introduces the book’s topical foci and sets the stage for continued debate on the meaning of variability in the San Dieguito and La Jolla archaeological records.

Chapter two, by Paul Ezell, reconsiders the C. W. Harris Site and its longstanding role as the type site for the San Dieguito Complex. The San Dieguito component at this site is seen as anomalous, reflecting the specialized knapping of hornfels and other lithic materials. Ezell concludes that the “San Dieguito Pattern” is valid, but not as represented at the Harris Site.

Dennis Gallegos offers in the third chapter a stimulating discussion of environmental and cultural sequences at Batiquitos Lagoon, north of San Diego. Archaeological remains from radiocarbon-dated sites in this locality indicate to Gallegos that “the San Dieguito, La Jolla, and Pauma complexes [were] one people” between ca. 8500 and 3500 years ago, with inter-site variability seen as a result of local environmental and cultural-ecological differences. A similar model is advanced by Charles Bull in the fourth chapter. He marshalls evidence to support the view that “the La Jolla Complex [is] an ecologically determined pattern, rather than an association representing a temporally distinct cultural group.” According to this interpretation, La Jolla is but a shellfish-collecting focus within a broader San Dieguito continuum of long duration.

Julian Hayden next looks beyond California to compare San Dieguito materials with lithic complexes elsewhere in the Greater Southwest. Unfortunately, dogmatic claims of great antiquity and particular relationships are not substantiated. Readers expecting empirical validation of ideas will be disappointed. Equally problematic is Chapter 6, in which James Moriarty, III once again trots out the Texas Street and Buchanan sites as “evidence” that San Diego County was occupied 30,000-15,000 years ago. Such references to patently non-archaeological sites cannot yield Knowledge of past cultures.

In Chapter seven, Brian Smith returns to the theme of the book, addressing the “Transitional Phase” (ca. 8000 yr ago) of San Diego County prehistory, when the San Dieguito and La Jolla complexes “were either active in succession or contemporaneously along the coastal littoral.” Smith proposes that earlier, mobile, hunting-gathering San Dieguito peoples of Great Basin origin were replaced gradually by later, semi-sedentary, Specialized gethering-collecting La Jolla Peoples from the Los Angeles/Santa Barbara coastal region. The “Transitional Phase” is seen as a time of “coexistence and limited cross-cultural exchange.”

A final chapter, by Claude Warren, comments on Chapters two through six and offers a unifying perspective on key issues. Warren agrees with Ezell that the “type site” concept is often misapplied, but argues that the C. W. Harris Site is representative of San Dieguito and may serve as a useful standard for comparison, whether or not specialized activities are evinced. Bull’s contentions are largely dismissed because methodological flaws preclude their validation. While commending Gallegos for his reexamination of cultural-ecological models at Batiquitos Lagoon, Warren calls attention to problems with some of Gallegos’ distinctions between San Dieguitan and La Jollan lithic assemblages. Hayden’s chapter contributes a valuable regional overview, but skates onto thin ice with respect to chronology and cultural associations. Moriarty and Smith are criticized mainly for their acceptance of technologic regression lieu of human ecology vis-a-vis paleoenvironmental shifts to explain cultural change. Warren concludes, first, by posing questions to be addressed by future research, and, second, with an appeal for publication of fieldwork reports – some dating to the 1920s – that now languish as manuscripts.

In sum, San Dieguito-La Jolla: Chronology and Controversy is a valuable discussion of early Holocene prehistory in southwestern California. It is an essential source, not only for avocational and professional archaeologists familiar with San Diego County, but also for students looking for a good introduction to what otherwise would be a daunting literature. Nonetheless, it would appear that much of the subject debate is fueled by semantic quibbling, selective uses of data, and a conspicuous avoidance of methodological niceties. The book poses some important research problems. These will be resolved as more data are published, basic definitions are agreed upon, detailed comparative studies and syntheses are completed, and as hypotheses are framed and rigorously tested.