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Gary S. Breschini and Trudy Haversat

Contents:    Introduction
Field Methods
Results of the Investigations
Conclusions and Interpretations

This report originally appeared in "Papers on California Prehistory: 1." Coyote Press Archives of California Prehistory 8:1-14, 1986.


This report presents the results of limited excavations at CA-MNT-149, a specialized peri-coastal food procurement and processing site located in the Spanish Bay/Asilomar area of the Monterey Peninsula, Monterey County, California. The excavations were conducted by Archaeological Consulting, of Salinas, California, during December, 1984, in conjunction with an application for a construction permit.

The exact site location has been deleted from this report. That information, along with a discussion of the project background, is contained in two preliminary reports (Padon 1984; Breschini, Haversat, and Hampson 1985), and is on file with the Northwest Regional Information Center of the California Archaeological Inventory, located at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California. The approximate site location, however, is shown in Map 1.

Map 1. Approximate Location of CA-MNT-149.

CA-MNT-149 was first recorded by Arnold Pilling in 1949. Pilling described the site as a small (10 x 15 yards) gathering site. It appears, however, that the site actually was a good deal larger than Pilling estimated, with some portions situated beneath sand dunes. At the time of our investigations, most of the site had already been destroyed, but even the small portion of the deposit which remained was larger than Pilling's original estimate. The site remnant was situated in an area of coastal sand dunes approximately 250 meters from the ocean. The majority of the site was covered with ice plant--it is likely that many areas not so covered have been subjected to wind deflation resulting in destruction of the midden.


Archaeological Consulting was engaged to conduct a preliminary archaeological evaluation of the surviving portions of site CA-MNT-149. The field work, conducted in December of 1984, was performed under the direction of Gary S. Breschini (SOPA), Trudy Haversat (SOPA), and R. Paul Hampson (SOPA), with assistance from Larry Bourdeau (SOPA), Beth Padon (SOPA), Margaret A. Doyle, and Charlotte Simpson-Smith.

Five archaeological test units were attempted. Units 1 and 2 were 1 x 2 m in size, while Units 3, 4, and 5 were of 1 x 1 m dimensions. Units 1, 2, and 5 were buried beneath as much as 60 cm of sterile sand, which was removed prior to excavation. When the sand was removed from Unit 2, however, no cultural deposit was encountered, and the unit was abandoned. Subsurface augering also was conducted to determine more about the areal extent of the site (Breschini, Haversat, and Hampson 1985).

Plate 1. View of CA-MNT-149 looking toward the northwest. Unit 3 is on the left side, in the background, in an exposed area of midden. Units 1 and 5 are situated in the background in approximately the center of the photograph. The photograph is taken from the vicinity of Unit 4.

All units were excavated in 10 cm contour levels, and all materials removed from the units were screened through 1/8 inch mesh. Following our normal procedure, all materials remaining in the screens, including bulk rock, were bagged and transported to the laboratory. In the laboratory the recovered soils were soaked and wet screened using 1/8 inch mesh. When dry, the recovered materials were sorted.

Following excavation, a column sample was taken from Unit 1. This consisted of a 10 x 10 x 100 cm block removed from each 10 cm level. The column extended to a depth of 70 cm, although Unit 1 extended to 80 cm. This was caused by the irregular floor of the unit, which contained pockets of cultural material extending into the 70-80 cm level. No such pockets existed where the column was placed. Each sample weighed an average of 17 kg when removed from the unit. All samples were screened through 1/8 inch mesh in the field, and all materials remaining in the screen were bagged and returned to the laboratory for water washing, again through 1/8 inch mesh. Following partial drying, each sample was weighed and about 500 g was separated for sorting. Some of the samples were not completely dry when the samples were taken, and the weights vary from 477.8 to 503.0 g.

Plate 2. View of CA-MNT-149 looking toward the west. The areas of Units 1, 2, and 5 are shown in the upper center of the photograph. A screener at Unit 3 can be seen at the extreme left.


It appears that most of the original cultural deposit has been destroyed. The surviving midden exists as small intermittent deposits, which frequently are buried. Through augering, we were able to identify several areas of intact midden beneath the ice plant and sterile dune sand. In the area of Unit 1, the midden deposit was covered by a dense layer of ice plant and 60 cm of sterile sand. The midden consisted of approximately 80 cm of sandy loam rich in shellfish remains and stained a dark brown or black by the remains of cooking fires or other activities.

Tables 1 through 3 summarize the distribution of midden constituents at CA-MNT-149. Table 1 presents a summary of midden constituents by category, unit, and depth. Table 2 presents the results of the column sample taken from the south wall of Unit 1. Table 3 lists the relative percentages of shellfish identified for each level. In Table 4, the midden constituents are expressed in terms of grams per cubic meter.

Table 1. Midden Constituents by Category, Unit, and Depth
(all weights are in grams)

Rock  Comments
Unit 1
0-10 cm0.  --
10-20 cm0.,562  --
20-30 cm0.,977  --
30-40 cm0.,590  193.6 g whale bone;
40-50 cm0.00.332.30.83,293  --
50-60 cm0.  Olivella G2a bead
60-70 cm0.  --
70-80 cm0.  --
Unit 3
0-10 cm0.  --
10-20 cm0.00.03.9tr354  --
20-30 cm0.,753  Chert biface fragment
30-40 cm0.,157  Poss. groundstone frag.
40-50 cm0.01.826.60.93,773  Poss. groundstone frag.*
50-60 cm0.,000  *
60-70 cm0.  --
70-80 cm0.  --
Unit 4
0-10 cm0.  --
10-20 cm0.00.04.3tr354  --
20-30 cm0.  --
30-40 cm0.  --
Unit 5
0-10 cm0.  --
10-20 cm0.,501  --
20-30 cm0.,680  Poss. mano fragment
30-40 cm0.,764  --
40-50 cm0.,010  --
50-60 cm0.  --
60-70 cm0.  --

* * These figures do not include 3,594 g of rock removed as Feature 3A.

Table 2. Micro-Constituents in the Midden Deposit*
(all weights are in grams).

Depth (cm)0-1010-2020-3030-4040-5050-6060-70Average
Column total503.0704.51,031.01,569.02,538.01,071.0566.07,982.5
Sample size503.0488.0483.6477.8494.6483.4498.63,429.0
Unident. shell102.0146.0194.5160.0130.093.3131.1956.9
Mytilus sp.198.0173.0160.0194.0239.7240.5230.21,435.4
Tegula sp.18.722.024.031.829.443.333.3202.5
Haliotis sp.
Balanus sp.
Crepidula sp.
Acmaea sp.
Tivela sp.
Unident. clam0.
Protothaca sp.
Land snail0.
Organic debris39.
Bone (non-fish)
Fish bone0.10.10.3tr0.20.2tr0.9

* Based upon a column sample measuring 10 x 10 x 100 cm per level obtained from Unit 1.

Table 3. Relative Percentages of Identified Shellfish Remains *
(all figures are percentages).

Depth (cm)0-1010-2020-3030-4040-5050-6060-70Average
Mytilus sp.88.477.081.679.080.876.680.780.36
Tegula sp.8.49.812.212.99.913.811.711.34
Haliotis sp.
Balanus sp.
Crepidula sp.<
Acmaea sp.<
Tivela sp.
Unident. clam0.
Protothaca sp. 0.0 0.0 <0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.01
     Total   100.0   100.1   100.1   100.0   99.9   100.0   100.0   100.00

* Based upon a column sample measuring 10 x 10 x 100 cm per level obtained from Unit 1.

Plate 3. Unit 3 and the coast, with Point Joe in the background. View is toward the west-southwest.

Table 4. Relative Proportions of Midden Constituents in Unit 1.

Total shellfish91,228.6grams per cubic meter
    Mytilus47,736.0grams per cubic meter
    Tegula6,734.4grams per cubic meter
    Amphineura1,968.8grams per cubic meter
    Haliotis sp.1,499.9grams per cubic meter
    Balanus sp.598.6grams per cubic meter
Endocladia538.8grams per cubic meter
Rock and FCR17,659.1grams per cubic meter
Charcoal3,438.7grams per cubic meter
Bone (other than fish)   212.8grams per cubic meter
Calculated from 10 x 10 x 100 cm column sample (1/8" screen, laboratory sorting).

Rock and FCR


grams per cubic meter
Bone (other than fish)104.3grams per cubic meter
Fish bone4.2grams per cubic meter
Chert0.9grams per cubic meter
Actual recovery from 1.6 cubic meters of excavated soil (1/8" screen, laboratory sorting).

Midden Constituents

The following sections discuss the primary midden constituents in order of their relative quantities at CA-MNT-149.

Shellfish Remains

Throughout the unit, the most frequently represented shellfish was mussel. Numerous other shellfish also were represented. The weights of the various shellfish species identified, and the weight of unidentified shell, are listed in Table 2. The relative proportions of various shellfish are listed in Tables 3 and 4.

The sample represents exploitation of the high and middle intertidal areas, with occasional examples from the low intertidal area. A few shell fragments were encountered which may represent displacement by storm action and resultant use, but there is no evidence in the sample to suggest marine exploitation activities other than in the intertidal zones of the adjacent coast.

Based on the amount of shell recovered from the column, the density of shell in the deposit (at least in the area of Unit 1) averaged about 91,000 g per cubic meter. Approximately 80% of the identifiable shell, or over 47,700 g per cubic meter, consisted of mussel (Table 4)--most of the unidentified shell was probably also mussel. There was relatively little change in the proportions of shell among the different levels of the column (Table 3).

Rock and Fire Altered Rock

Rock, most of it fire-altered, was encountered throughout the midden deposit. This consisted primarily of locally available granitics, now decomposing from exposure to fire. Heavier concentrations of fire-altered rock were encountered in the middle layers of the deposit, but most other midden constituents also were concentrated in the middle layers of the deposit (Table 1).

The midden contained between 10,800 and 17,600 g of rock and fire-altered rock per cubic meter (Table 4).


In the control column, a surprisingly large amount of charcoal was recovered. In the seven levels represented in the column, 103.4 g of charcoal were recovered. This represents a mass of approximately 3,438.7 g per cubic meter of deposit within the area of Unit 1. Charcoal thus was the third most prevalent material recovered.

While this material was not examined in detail, it appears that many charcoal fragments are burned remains of pine cones. The pine scales were readily identifiable, but were not quantified. In any future work at this site, the charcoal should be examined by an expert.


Fragmentary animal bone was encountered in small quantities in all levels of the four excavated units. The weights per level are listed in Table 1. In all, 311.3 g of fragmentary bone was recovered; this represents between 104 and 212 g of bone per cubic meter excavated (Table 4). Not included in this figure is a large piece of whale bone found in Feature 1B.

Virtually all of the bone recovered was finely broken. For example, the 28.3 g of bone recovered from the 10-20 cm level of Unit 1 represented 208 individual bone fragments with an average weight of 0.14 g per fragment. Some of the other levels contained bone which was even more fragmentary.

Although none of the recovered bone was examined by an expert, the majority of the animal bone appeared to represent the remains of terrestrial mammals. Of these, deer was probably the primary mammal represented. A small proportion of the bone appeared to represent sea mammal remains. Also present in small quantities were rodent bones (possibly non-dietary), bird bones, and a few miscellaneous fragments which could represent reptiles.

Whale bone, weighing 193.6 g, was encountered in Feature 1B. It consisted of three pieces which, when assembled, measured 355 x 51 x 35 mm (Figure 1e). These fragments did not exhibit any signs of modification other than breakage, but probably were associated in some way with the manufacture of whale bone pries used for removing abalone or mussels from the rocks. The archaeological sites in and around Asilomar, immediately adjacent to CA-MNT-149, are known to contain numerous whale bone pries.

While fish remains were encountered in 25 of the 27 levels excavated, the total weight of fish bone recovered was very small. The excavation, even though utilizing techniques designed to recover small midden constituents, recovered only an average of 4.0 g of fish bone per cubic meter.

Artifacts Recovered

One flaked stone artifact, a biface fragment found in Unit 3 at 20-30 cm was encountered during the excavation (Figure 1a). It is fashioned from black Monterey banded chert, and appears to have fractured along natural lines at some time after manufacture. In all, less than 5 g of locally available chert was encountered in 3.5 cubic meters of excavated deposit--a recovery rate of 1.3 g of chert per cubic meter (0.9 g per cubic meter in Unit 1). While no formal lithic analysis was conducted, it appears that the lithic materials represent the end of the reduction sequence (i.e., the flakes are the result of use, rather than tool manufacture).

The laboratory procedures included the separation and careful examination of all Olivella shells and shell fragments, as this is the most commonly used shell for bead manufacture along the central coast. In addition, all limpet shells were carefully examined, as these shells occasionally are utilized as beads. However, no evidence of shell bead or ornament manufacture was noted at CA-MNT-149.

In spite of the careful examination of the recovered materials, only one shell artifact was recovered (Figure 1b). This is a shell bead with a diameter of approximately 6.5 mm and a central perforation of approximately 1.3 mm. This bead has been identified by Dr. James A. Bennyhoff as an Olivella Small Saucer, Type G2a (Lillard, Heizer, and Fenenga's [1939] Type 3c; Gifford's [1947] Type X3bI; and Hoover's [1971] Type 3c). Bennyhoff states that Olivella Saucer beads larger than 5 mm in diameter are a Middle Period marker type in both southern and central California (King 1981:360; Elsasser 1978:39, Nos. 9, 10; 40, Nos. 3, 8, 9). Concerning Olivella Saucer beads, King writes:

Olivella saucers were used over a large area of California during Phases M2 [800 B.C.-A.D. 300] and M3 [A.D. 300-700]. They were the most common type of shell bead used east of the Santa Barbara Channel to at least the Mojave River and south to the Santa Ana Mountains. They were an important bead type at least as far north as San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento Delta during the Castro and Morse Facies (Elsasser 1978:38-41). These facies are roughly contemporary with Phase M2a [King 1981:211].
For Buchanan Reservoir, Moratto states that:
eight separate grave lots of Olivella G2 beads have been radiocarbon dated between 50 ± 80 B.C. and A.D. 645 ± 80 (T. King 1976:115; Moratto 1972:421, 423) [Moratto 1985:827].
The four radiocarbon dates from CA-MNT-149 (discussed below) average A.D. 474, comfortably within the established range for the Type G2 bead.

Figure 1. Artifacts from CA-MNT-149. A. Black Monterey chert biface fragment. B. Olivella Small saucer bead (Type G2a). C. Hammerstone. D. Possible mano. E. Unmodified whale bone. Not to scale. Illustrations by Anna L. Runnings.

While there was a considerable amount of rock in the midden, almost all was clearly non-artifactual. Only four pieces of potentially utilized stone were found; three of these were fragmentary. One slightly utilized granitic hammerstone was found in Unit 1, at 30-40 (Figure 1c). Its dimensions are 82 x 64 x 26 mm. A very lightly used granitic mano fragment was found in Unit 5, at 20-30 cm (Figure 1d). Its dimensions are 106 x 81 x 55 mm. Two additional fragments were found which may represent groundstone artifacts. The wear patterns on these fragments were not well defined, and could be due to natural erosion.


Three features were encountered during the excavation. Feature 1A was encountered in the 20-30 cm level of Unit 1, and was profiled at 30 cm. It consisted of several rocks, along with two small mostly intact abalone shells (Haliotis cracherodii ). Feature 1B is a continuation into the 30-40 cm level of Feature 1A. Immediately below the rocks and abalone shells described above was a 355 mm long piece of whale bone (Figure 1e), several more rocks, and two more black abalone shells. Also, there was a small area in which the shellfish remains appeared to be more concentrated. This area was recovered and screened separately, but no cultural materials were recovered. Feature 3A was a cluster of rocks and abalone shells (both red and black) in the 40-60 levels of Unit 3. This feature was profiled at 60 cm, but actually extended upward into the 40-50 cm level as well. No artifacts or other cultural materials were encountered in the feature.

Given the presence of features at about the same levels in two of the excavated four units, it is possible that large areal features are present at CA-MNT-149. It is possible that large areal exposures would reveal more patterning than could be observed in the small units excavated.

Plate 4. Feature 1B, situated in Unit 1 at 40 cm. Shown are two abalone shells, fire-altered rock, and a broken piece of whale bone.

Radiocarbon Dating

As a dating strategy we submitted radiocarbon samples from the 0-10, 20-30, 50-60, and 70-80 cm levels of Unit 1 (Table 5). We retained additional shell samples to be used, if necessary, to provide further information or to clarify the results of the first four samples. The four samples of mussel shell (Mytilus sp.) were separated from the large quantities of shell recovered from the 1/8" sample of Unit 1.

The four samples yielded virtually identical results. Based on these samples, the midden was deposited approximately 1,500 years ago, possibly during a relatively short time period.

Table 5. Radiocarbon Determinations from CA-MNT-149.

Provenience Date    Lab No.Material Weight  
Unit 1, 0-10 cm 1560 ± 65    WSU-3143Shell-Mytilus (mult. pcs.) 62 g
Unit 1, 20-30 cm 1400 ± 55    WSU-3144Shell-Mytilus (mult. pcs.)83 g
Unit 1, 50-60 cm 1500 ± 70    WSU-3145Shell-Mytilus (mult. pcs.)86 g
Unit 1, 70-80 cm   1445 ± 95    WSU-3146Shell-Mytilus (mult. pcs.)74 g
Unit 1, 70-80 cm   1410 ± 40     Beta-148502   Shell-Mytilus (1 pc.) 2.6 g

[Note added October 2001: One additional date, from a single piece of mussel shell, was obtained in November, 2000. It confirmed the dates obtained originally. Two sigma calibrated results for the five samples (Delta-R = 225 ± 35) are as follows: AD 528-787, AD 679-971, AD 573-885, AD 587-994, and AD 690-900. The intercepts average AD 741.]


Based upon the limited testing, CA-MNT-149 appears to be a specialized peri-coastal food processing site at which large quantities of mussel, but very limited quantities of other foods, were prepared and cooked. A very limited range of activities was documented by the excavations--it appears that shellfish gathering, as well as shellfish consumption and residential activities were conducted in other locations. This specific type of site, that is, a specialized shellfish processing site, has not previously been identified on the Monterey Peninsula. As such, it appears to be associated with the specialized collectors (Monterey Pattern) who inhabited the Monterey Peninsula during the last 2,000 years.

We have isolated two cultural components on the Monterey Peninsula (cf. Breschini and Haversat 1980 et seq.). The early cultural component, dating between approximately 5,000 and 2,200 years ago, was characterized by foragers (cf. Binford 1980). During this interval, people travelled to the resources, and gathered food on a daily encounter basis. As a result, the population was small, and virtually all sites were villages. During the last 2,000 years, however, a number of technological and other changes took place. These possibly are related to the influence of a new group of people who gradually moved into the area and absorbed the previous inhabitants (cf. Breschini 1983). They introduced to the Monterey Peninsula the economic technology which allowed a specialized collecting mode to develop. During this period, the resources were moved to the people, rather than the other way around. This was accomplished through the use of special purpose sites situated away from the primary residential bases. During particular seasons, the inhabitants would exploit (and generally store) quantities of specific resources. Site types were developed which were devoted primarily to gathering or processing these specific resources-- resources which were then transported to the primary residential bases.

There may be a connection with CA-MNT-145, situated near the beach between CA-MNT-149 and the coast. This could account for the relative lack of abalone, in spite of the exploitation of the low intertidal area. This lack of abalone may, however, also represent different exploitation patterns and/or temporal differences between the two sites.

In summary, our interpretation of CA-MNT-149 as a small specialized peri-coastal food processing site is based upon the following information:

Based upon the relative proportions of midden components shown in Table 4, the three primary constituents of the midden deposit are 1) shellfish remains, 2) rock (most of which is fire-altered), and 3) charcoal. The presence of these materials supports the interpretation that CA-MNT-149 was utilized for the processing and preparation of shellfish, primarily mussel. The limited amounts of other materials, such as other dietary remains, artifacts, human burials, and features suggest that CA-MNT-149 was not a primary living site.

If CA-MNT-149 is a specialized peri-coastal food processing site, we may wonder why no other examples of this type of deposit have yet been identified on the Monterey Peninsula. Some of the data obtained during the past few years suggests a reason for the relative scarcity of this type of deposit.

In the Monterey Bay, food processing and preparation activities were frequently conducted either where food resources were obtained, or at major living sites. In the Spanish Bay area we know that the coast was heavily utilized during late prehistoric times as a source of shellfish. As there is no major village site currently known in the Asilomar/Spanish Bay area, and as the coastal strip is subjected to fog and strong winds most of the year, it is possible that CA-MNT-149 represented a compromise. As perhaps the most convenient location near the shellfish gathering areas offering both shelter and a plentiful supply of usable fire wood, this site may have been used for processing and cooking foods normally dealt with at either at a village or at the point of recovery of resources.

It is possible that this type of site is not known from other areas of the Monterey Peninsula because of the unique nature of the local topography. Many areas are naturally sheltered--these areas had either shellfish gathering and processing areas combined into one site deposit, or they contained villages where the shellfish processing was conducted in conjunction with normal residential activities. Because of the landform, CA-MNT-149 appears to have generated a unique site type--a specialized shellfish processing station situated well back from the coast.

To summarize, with the excavation of a limited number of archaeological units, we have been able to obtain new information on the subsistence and settlement patterns of the prehistoric occupants of the Monterey Peninsula area. Based upon this documented information potential, there is no question that the remains of CA-MNT-149 constitute a significant archaeological resource.


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