Home Page  |  News  |  Events  |  Links
Online Articles : by Author  |  by Subject  |  by County
  Timelines  |  Site Names  |  Maps  |  Glossary  |  Everything Else   
<==Previous Page



Gerrit L. Fenenga1

Contents:    Introduction
Context of Discovery
Description of the Shell Beads and Ornaments
End Notes

This report originally appeared in "Analyses of South-Central Californian Shell Artifacts: Studies from Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara Counties." Coyote Press Archives of California Prehistory 23:87-105 1988.


This report describes the shell beads and ornaments recovered from excavations at CA-MNT-33a. This site located on the north bank of the Carmel River about 15 miles from its mouth at Carmel Bay, and is situated on the historic boundary between the Rumsen Costanoan and the Esselen (Kroeber 1904, 1925; Heizer 1966; Cook 1974a, 1974b; Levy 1978; Hester 1978). Excavations were conducted here in 1972 by the Monterey County Archaeological Society, and have been briefly reported upon by Howard (1974:39-41). A total of five test pits, each measuring five by five feet, was excavated, and 23 shell artifacts were found. This represents a small collection of artifacts, but is important because it helps to fill a geographic gap in an area of Central California where the nature of aboriginal bead and ornament use is virtually unknown.

Map 1. Approximate location of CA-MNT-33a.

The study of shell beads and ornaments has proven to be of considerable value in California archaeology since shell bead-money economies were important ethnographically, and shell artifacts frequently occur in archaeological contexts. Certain forms of shell beads and other ornaments are sensitive temporal markers and their presence chronologically diagnostic in archaeological sites. Shell artifact chronologies are built upon a substantial amount of radiometric dating and other information, and many researchers would trust a date based on the cross-dating of shell bead types over a single C14 or other "absolute" date. Shell beads and ornaments are functionally related to human socio-economic behavior. Thus, the information they provide is quite different from other kinds of archaeological data such as land-use patterns, faunal remains, or industrial technology. In addition to their use as time-markers, shell artifacts can provide knowledge of prehistoric trade and exchange networks, the distribution of wealth and status in prehistoric societies, the internal organization of archaeological sites, and other behaviors relating to aboriginal social systems and their maintenance. These data can be used to monitor the development and evolution of regional prehistoric socio-economic and political systems.

In the Central Coast region of California, archaeologists presently know little about the history of manufacture, distribution, and use of shell artifacts. The full spectrum of morphological types of beads utilized in this region is presently poorly understood, as are the original sources for many of the types which have been reported. Relative to other areas of California, there are few data available concerning the precise manner in which beads and shell ornaments were used, or of the history of change in these behaviors through time. For instance, when the use of shell bead-money (as opposed to beads used simply for decorative purposes), appears in the Central Coast archaeological sequence is largely unknown. This development is of importance in understanding the regional development of cultural complexity in prehistoric California into the ethnohistoric patterns recorded by early ethnographers.

Analysis of the CA-MNT-33a shell beads and ornaments will not completely resolve any of these matters, but the resulting data add to an accumulating body of evidence which can potentially be of value to future researchers concerned with such problems. This paper describes the shell artifacts found, briefly examines the context in which they occurred, and discusses some of their implications.


The artifacts considered in this study were discovered individually scattered in the midden deposit at CA-MNT-33a. They were recovered from each of the five units excavated.1 These pits measured 5 x 5 feet in area, and evidently were excavated in arbitrary 6 inch levels with the soil screened through 1/4 inch mesh screen. Use of this size screen can bias the recovery of bead types, especially during time periods when small beads are more common. The extent that the CA-MNT-33a sample has been affected by screen size is unknown. This possibility, however, should be considered in any interpretation of the materials represented. It is possible for entire temporal components to be "screened out," particularly if beads are the primary (or only) sensitive chronological markers present. A single uncorrected radiocarbon date of 2285 ± 100 B.P. (WSU-2388) has been reported from CA-MNT-33a (Breschini et al. 1988; Moratto 1984:248, Table 6.3). This was obtained on a single whole Haliotis sp. shell found at the base of the cultural deposit (132 cm below surface) in unit A1.2

None of the specimens included in this collection occurred in direct context with human burials or any other recognized cultural feature. Although they appear from sampling to be arbitrarily distributed throughout the cultural deposit at CA-MNT-33a, these artifacts probably occur in an organized arrangement within the overall site configuration. The 1972 excavations simply probed a portion of the site where they happened to be dispersed. Probably shell beads and ornaments occurred in other contexts at CA-MNT-33a, such as with burials, but were missed as a factor of sampling. Scattered, isolated beads often are found in and around living areas of aboriginal villages in California. They also can occur at specialized localities such as shrines or mourning ceremony locations. With the passage of time, shell beads and other artifacts can eventually become displaced from their original place of deposition. A dispersed distribution of chronologically similar artifacts, such as beads, may indicate the gradual degradation of abandoned cultural features, and not necessarily reflect the pattern of their original placement.


Twenty-three shell artifacts were recovered from the 1972 excavations at CA-MNT-33a (Plate 1). One of these is a fragment of a small pendant manufactured from an undetermined species of Haliotis shell. The remaining 22 specimens are beads made from the shells of Olivella biplicata Sowerby, a small marine gastropod. These beads are of seven different morphological varieties recognized in various typological analyses of shell beads from California archaeological sites (Lillard et al. 1939; Gifford 1949; Bennyhoff and Heizer 1958; Bennyhoff and Fredrickson 1967; King 1982; Gibson 1974; Bass and Andrews 1977; Bennyhoff 1986; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987). For the purposes of the present analysis, the typology developed by Bennyhoff and Fredrickson (1967) and recently revised by Bennyhoff and Hughes (1987) has been employed. Each of the morphological bead types discovered at CA-MNT-33a will be described and its significance briefly discussed. Data pertaining to individual specimens are presented in Table 1. Information concerning the character of the assemblage and its distribution are summarized in subsequent Tables and Figures. The single Haliotis shell ornament will be considered separately.

Plate 1. Shell Beads and Ornaments from CA-MNT-33a. Top row: 33a-1. Second row: 33a-2 through 33a-6, and 33a-8-9. Third row: 33a-10 through 33a-16. Bottom row: 33a-17 through 33a-23.

Figure 1. Selected Beads and Ornaments from CA-MNT-33a. No scale. Illustrations by Anna L. Runnings.

Olivella biplicata Shell Beads

Type A1b: Medium, Spire-Lopped
Olivella biplicata Bead

Two of these were found at CA-MNT-33a (see Plate 1 and Figure 1). Class A Olivella beads consist of whole shells which have the spire end modified by breaking or grinding to produce a hole for stringing or attachment. These are the simplest and most cheaply produced form of shell bead. Type A1b beads are characterized by their size, as measured in maximum outside diameter. Type A1b ranges from about 7-9 mm in diameter, or are "medium-sized" spire-lopped Olivella beads (Bennyhoff and Fredrickson 1967:7). A third spire-lopped bead from CA-MNT-33a measures 9.5 mm in diameter and could be placed in either the "large" or "medium" size category. Bennyhoff and Hughes (1987:117) indicate Type A1b beads range from 6.5-9.5 mm, so this bead should belong in this category. However, due to its morphological dissimilarity to the other two Type A1b specimens, it was classified as an A1c, large spire-lopped bead in this instance. This classification seems more appropriate than to lump dissimilar specimens simply in accordance with arbitrarily defined metric morphological criteria.

The two Type A1b specimens are similar in size. Each measures 7.5 mm in diameter. Their lengths differ slightly (9.5 vs. 11.5), but this could be due to the fact the shorter bead (33a-18) has had its spire end completely broken off. The other (33a-13) has a well-ground spire. Both Type A1b beads occurred 24-30 inches in depth, although in different units (Figs. 2 and 3). Specimen 33a-13 was found in unit A4, specimen 33a-18 in unit D1. At CA MNT-33a, the Type A1b beads occurred stratigraphically below other Class A whole Olivella bead types.

Table 1. Data on Individual Shell Beads and Ornaments from CA-MNT-33a.

    Dimensions (mm)
#Prov.TypeMaterialLW Th Perf.Notes
1A1, 42-48"--Haliotis(11.0) fragment
2A3, 0-6"C7Olivella10., eroded?
3A3, 6-12"G2bOlivella8.
4A3, 18-24"A3cOlivella19.011.0--3.8Calcined, chipped hole
5A3, 18-24"A1cOlivella16.59.5--1.5Calcined, chipped hole
6A3, 18-24"F2bOlivella8. G6(?)
7A3, 18-24"G2bOlivella8. in half
8A3, 30-36"G2bOlivella8.
9A3, 30-36"F2bOlivella7.
10A3, 36-42"G2bOlivella8., asphaltum on
interior; biconical hole, Type G3b(?)
11A4, 0-6"F2aOlivella11.
12A4, 18-24"G2bOlivella7. black; asphaltum on interior; biconical hole, ground spire
13A4, 24-30"A1bOlivella11.57.5--1.1--
14A4, 30-36"G2bOlivella7. black
15D1, 0-6"G2bOlivella8.
16D1, 12-18"A1cOlivella16.010.5--4.8Large chipped hole
17D1, 18-24"G2bOlivella7.
18D1, 24-30"A1bOlivella9.57.5--3.5Large chipped hole
19D1, 30-36"G2bOlivella8.; biconical hole
20D4, 30-36"G2bOlivella8. hole, Type G6(?)
21D4, 30-36"G2bOlivella7. on exterior and interior
22D4, 47"G2bOlivella7.
23 SurfaceA1cOlivella19.512.0--2.7Spire ground

Generally speaking, whole, spire-lopped Olivella beads are not considered to be reliable time markers in Central California. This is particularly true for the large and mid-sized types (A1c and A1b). The smaller (A1a) form is made from immature Olivella shells, and is somewhat more diagnostic. These are most common in Early Period sites and during Phase 1 of the Late Period (Bennyhoff and Heizer 1958: 81). There are exceptions to this tendency, however, so dating upon the basis of Class A beads of any type is unwise. Bennyhoff and Hughes (1987:118) state that Type A1b Olivella beads have no temporal significance. The stratigraphic occurrence of Type A1b beads below other Class A forms may or may not have regional temporal implications, with the possibility that use of mid-sized Olivella spire-lopped types may have generally preceded the use of larger forms. This pattern might reflect other aspects of bead manufacturing practices in this area, such as the selection of specific sizes for making cut shell beads, or attempting to produce multiple numbers of cut beads from a single shell.

Spire-lopped Olivella beads are probably the oldest form of shell bead known from California There is evidence for their use in the Monterey Bay area at least as early as 5000 years ago at CA-MNT-391 (Cartier 1984). They continued to be used through historic times (cf. Howard 1974; Dietz and Jackson 1981; Roop and Flynn 1978; and others). It is interesting to note that a native woman from Monterey drawn by Josť Cardero of the Malaspina expedition in 1791 is depicted wearing medium to large sized Class A Olivella beads (Heizer 1974:iv, 90).

Type A1c: Large, Spire-Lopped
Olivella biplicata Bead

Three beads of this type were found at CA-MNT-33a (see Plate 1 and Figs. 1-3). An additional bead, herein classed as an A3c Olivella bead, might also be included. Its uncertain taxonomic status is discussed below. Regardless of its placement, a maximum of three or four beads can be classified in this typological category. Type A1c Olivella beads are poor temporal markers since they occur throughout much of California prehistory (cf. Bennyhoff data in Elsasser 1978). In central California, the large form of spire-lopped Olivella beads predominantly occur during the Middle and Protohistoric Periods (Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:118).

Both ground and chipped spires were observed in the Class A beads from CA-MNT-33a. The perforation on one of the Type A1c,(and one of the A1b beads), has been ground flat. This spire-ground A1c specimen (33a-23) was found on the surface of the site. The other specimens (33a-5 and 33a-16) occurred in the 18-24" level of unit A3 and the 12-18" level of unit D1 respectively (Figs. 2 and 3). Two of the A1c beads and one of the Type A1b have large, roughly chipped holes made by completely breaking off the spire end of the original shell. Although the sample is small, about 50% of the Class A beads from CA-MNT-33a have these distinctly broken "perforations."

Figure 2. Olivella Beads by Morphological Type.

Table 2. Occurrence of Shell Artifacts in Excavation Units at CA-MNT-33a.

  Unit A1  Unit A3  Unit A4  Unit D1  Unit D4 
Type A Spire-lopped beads02120
Type F2a and F2b Saddle Beads     02100
Type G2a and G2b Saucer Beads05223
   Total beads in unit09443

One of the A1c specimens (33a-5) has been burned to a chalky white color (calcined). This was also observed of one of the A1b beads, as well as some specimens classified in other types. The burning of Olivella shells is documented ethnographically as a practice sometimes associated with their manufacture into beads (cf. Barrett and Gifford 1933: 251). Beads also were sometimes intentionally burned in the process of conducting other cultural activities, as when burning possessions of the deceased, or tossed as offerings during other ceremonial activities. Of course it also is possible for beads scattered in a midden deposit to be inadvertently burned if located adjacent to hearths or other pyrotechnical activity areas.

Type A3c: Large, Perforated, and Spire-Lopped
Olivella biplicata Bead

A single specimen of this type occurred in the 18-24 inch level of unit A3 (see Plate 1 and Figs. 1-3). Type A3c beads consist of whole shells which usually have the spire end ground down or broken off, and have an additional perforation in the side of the body (Bennyhoff and Fredrickson 1967:7). The bead from CA-MNT-33a has a chipped and subsequently ground spire, and a small, irregular hole punched into one side. Sometimes Type A3 beads do not have modified spires, and if these did not occur in grave lots possibly would not even be considered to be beads (Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:119). Many of the side perforations found on shells may be the natural result of some agent in the marine environment. Carnivorous boring gastropods (such as the Olivella itself), boring marine worms, and other agents could account for these perforations. As Bennyhoff and Fredrickson (1967:7-8) have noted, the presence of side perforations may indicate the beads were made from the shells of dead Olivella snails collected along the beach. Ethnographically, live shells were generally preferred for bead making.

A high incidence of large broken openings on the spire end of Olivella shells may also reflect the collection of old shells. This is because the spire is the weakest portion of the shell, and can be readily broken off in rough surf or other taphonomically adverse situations. Thus, many of the Class A Olivella beads could have been collected as finished beads, with their spires already "lopped." Bennyhoff and Fredrickson (ibid.:8) have suggested that preference for the use of large mature Olivella shells for manufacturing beads from the wall portion of the shell (e.g., saucers, discs, rectangles, etc.), may have selectively lead to smaller shells being strung whole. Similarly, the Type A3c and broken spire Class A beads from CA-MNT-33a could perhaps indicate selection against the use of old shells in the making of cut bead forms. Instead, these may have been strung whole, possibly along with other "rejected" shells.

Side-drilled, spire-lopped Olivella beads are more common in Southern California than they are in Central California (Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:119). There they often are found in the Early Period and Phase 1 of the Late Period (ibid.; King 1982). In Central California, this type of bead is rare, but specimens are known from both early and late phases of the Middle Period (Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:119). Type A3c beads are already known from other sites in the Monterey Bay Region. For example, they occurred at CA-MNT-391, an Early Period site in Monterey (Cartier 1984). They have been found in Middle Period contexts at CA-MNT-113, CA-MNT-115, and CA-MNT-116 (Dietz and Jackson 1981:346,398, 464-465, Fig. 5-151). Type A3 beads have also been reported from a Phase 1, Late Period component at CA-MNT-298 (Roop and Flynn 1978: Plates XLIV-XLVII).

Table 3. Distribution of Olivella Beads in by Type and Depth at CA-MNT-33a.

18-24"--A1c, A3c,
F2b, G2b
30-36"--F2b, G2bG2bG2bG2b, G2b

Type C7: Split, Amorphous
Olivella biplicata Bead (3)

A single bead from CA-MNT-33a has been classed as a Class C split-drilled Olivella bead (see Plate 1 and Figure 1). The specimen is unique in the assemblage, and is of a form which is highly variable in shape. These factors make typological identification difficult, especially in the case of a singular specimen. It conforms best to the description of Type C7 beads provided by Bennyhoff and Fredrickson (1967:13). The split, amorphous Olivella bead type "consists of bead lots which are highly variable in form . . . specimens usually have broken edges with occasional edge grinding." They average about 9 x 10 mm in size (ibid.).

The bead from CA-MNT-33a measures 9.0 x 10.5 mm, and has portions of its periphery broken although they now appear smoothly worn. In general, this bead is oval to sub-rectangular in shape. With the exception of its fairly large perforation (2.5 mm), could easily be classified as a Class F, Type F3a square saddle Olivella bead (ibid.:18). The large perforation, however, excludes this specimen from that category. Class C, split drilled Olivella beads are believed to be the form out of which Class F square saddle beads developed (ibid.:14), and potential for morphological confusion can exist, especially when beads occur in small lots or as singular specimens.

It is possible this bead should instead be classified as a Type G6b2, large, asymmetrical, "irregular saucer" (Bennyhoff 1986:230; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:133-134), although it is just outside the size range indicated for this type (ibid.). Type G6 irregular saucer Olivella beads are characterized by a lack of standardization, and as with other roughly finished bead forms are difficult to individually classify. They are, however, a locally produced bead type (i.e., Monterey Bay), and should be considered here. It also is conceivable that the single bead under discussion is instead a Type C3, "split oval" Olivella bead. These, however, are usually better finished than the CA-MNT-33a specimen and are more common in other areas, particularly in the Great Basin (Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:123).

The Type C7 bead from CA-MNT-33a is calcined white from burning, as are many of the beads from this site. It was found in the uppermost level (0-6") of Unit A3 (Figs. 2 and 3). The specimen is roughly rectangular in shape, has partially ground edges, and retains a small portion of the interior shelf. It is this last trait which convinced me to classify this as a Class C, "split" Olivella, rather than as a Class G, Olivella "saucer," although saucers with shelf remnants do sometimes occur.

Class C, split drilled Olivella beads were predominantly in use during the Middle Period of Central California prehistory. Class C7, split amorphous Olivella beads are considered a marker type for the Middle/Late Period Transition (Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:125). This dates to approximately 700-900 A.D. Type C3, split oval beads usually occur during this same time range in central California, although they are known from Early Period contexts in the Great Basin (ibid.:123), and could appear in collections from any time during the Middle Period. Type G6, irregular saucer beads also appear to occur throughout the Middle Period, although they have only been found in large lots in association with burials datable to the Early/Middle Period Transition (ibid.:135). Given the ambiguity inherent in classifying singular beads of carelessly finished shape, this bead could date anywhere from about 200 B.C. to 900 A.D. It is perhaps significant that the specimen from CA-MNT-33a occurred in the uppermost excavated level of the site. Stratigraphically this would be expected if indeed this is a late Middle Period bead type, as are Type C7, split amorphous Olivella beads.

A number of similar Olivella beads similar to the CA-MNT-33a specimen were found in the excavations at the Monterey Presidio Site, CA-MNT-101 (Pritchard 1984:13-14, 36-37, Plate 2E[a-f]). CA-MNT-101 has not been radiometrically dated, but typologically the bead assemblage is quite like that from CA-MNT-33a, indicating possible contemporaneity between these village sites.

Type F2a: Full Saddle
Olivella biplicata Bead

A single specimen of this bead type occurred in the collection (see Plate 1 and Figure 1). Olivella saddle beads are made from the outer wall of the shell. They are characterized by having been cut from the original shell body with a somewhat diagonal configuration. This can be identified by orienting the growth lines on the convex surface of the bead to the vertical axis, and then observing the degree of variation from a right angle the top and bottom edges of the bead form in relation to the vertical axis (Bennyhoff and Fredrickson 1967:18). When the concave surface is up, the left side of the bead slants upward and the right downward (ibid.). Type F2a full saddle beads are distinguished by a definite diagonal cut, with a width longer than their length. Usually perforations are relatively small. Size can be variable and both chipped and ground edges occur within this type (ibid.; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:130).

The specimen from CA-MNT-33a is moderately large and has ground edges. It has a relatively large hole (2.0 mm) for this type of bead (Figure 4). In fact, Bennyhoff and Hughes (ibid.) indicate perforations in this type only range from 1.1-1.9 mm, making this specimen clearly outside their dimensional criteria. Having carefully compared the CA-MNT-33a specimen with other possible types, I have concluded it best fits the morphological criteria defined for the full saddle (F2a) type. The bead has been burned or baked white, as previously described for other specimens. It was discovered in the 0-6" level of Unit A4 .

Class F saddle Olivella beads are a particularly diagnostic form in Central California. Saddle beads probably developed out of Class C split drilled bead forms (Bennyhoff and Fredrickson 1967:19). The various different saddle bead types form a developmental sequence through prehistory (ibid.). Grave lots with only type F2a full saddles mark the Intermediate Phase in the middle of the Middle Period (Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:130). This would date to approximately between 100 and 300 A.D. These beads also persist through the Late and Terminal Phases of the Middle Period, where they occur in mixed lots with Type F3 square saddle (F3a) or small saddle beads (F3b) (ibid.). This means it is conceivable the specimen found at CA-MNT-33a could date to as late as 500 to 700 A.D.

Type F2b: Round Saddle
Olivella biplicata Beads

Two beads from CA-MNT-33a were classified as this type (see Plate 1 and Figure 1). Round saddle beads (Type F2b) are similar to full saddles Type F2a), but "differ in not being as wide or elongate" (ibid.:18). Bead width in this type is "equal to or slightly more than its length" (Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:130-131). Sizes range from 6.0 x 6.5 to 13.0 x 14.0 in diameter, with perforations varying between 1.1 and 2.1 mm. The two specimens are individually unique. One (33a-9) is more conventional or typical in form and has a perforation of 1.5 mm, which is the mean size for this type (ibid.). It measures 7.8 x 8.2 mm in diameter. The other bead (33a-6) is more hexagonal (six-sided) than it is round or oval. It has a slightly larger perforation (2.0 mm), and is 8.5 mm in diameter . It is conceivable that this specimen (33a-6) should instead be classified as a Type G6 irregular saucer (cf. Bennyhoff 1986; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987: 133-135). However, both specimens display the distinctive diagonal cut characteristic of Class F saddle beads. The individuality of each of these beads implies they have had different histories. In other words, it is unlikely they represent part of an original set of beadwork. It is noteworthy, however, that both were recovered from Unit A3. The larger-holed example (33a-6) occurred in the 18-24" level, while the other (33a-9) was found in the 30-36" level.

Type F2b round saddle beads are temporally diagnostic of the middle portion of the Middle Horizon (Bennyhoff and Fredrickson 1967:19; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:131). The antiquity suggested by the presence of these beads is similar to that indicated by the full saddle (Type F2a) beads, or roughly from 100-300 A.D. Type F2a and F2b saddle beads are known to sometimes occur together in bead lots in the San Francisco Bay area (ibid.). The F2b round saddles are particularly characteristic of Bay Region sites of this period (ibid.).

The presence of Class F Olivella saddle beads at CA-MNT-33a clearly links the site with others in the Central California economic interaction sphere. Saddle beads were never manufactured in Southern California, as were many other forms of shell beads and ornaments (cf. Gifford 1949; Gibson 1973; King 1982). Residues from Olivella shell bead making have been identified in several sites in the Monterey Bay, and it is quite likely that many, if not all, of the beads found at CA-MNT-33a originally came from somewhere in this general vicinity.

Type G2b: Large, Normal Saucer
Olivella biplicata Bead

Twelve beads of this type are represented in the collection from CA-MNT-33a (see Plate 1 and Figure 1). This amounts to about 55% of the total sample of 22 beads from the site. Morphologically this is a relatively uniform group of beads in terms of shape, outside diameter, and perforation size. The saucers range from 7.5 to 8.5 mm in length and have perforations averaging 2.3 mm in diameter. A single bead (33a-10) has a slightly larger hole (2.9 mm) than any of the other beads in this category. Conceivably, this specimen could represent a Type G3b, large ring Olivella bead (Bennyhoff and Fredrickson 1967:20; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:132-133). This bead has a biconical perforation (cf. Gibson 1973:21). The remaining Type G2b beads have perforations that range between 1.9 and 2.5 mm. All but two of these are drilled from the interior side only. Perforation diameters are temporally diagnostic in Class G Olivella saucer beads. The measurements from the sample considered here are fairly large, and specific temporal affinities are suggested. Type G2b beads were found in four of the five excavated units at CA-MNT-33a. They were stratigraphically distributed throughout the deposit, although most occurred in the middle and lower levels (Figs. 3 and 4). Type G2b saucer beads (and the Haliotis pendant) were the deepest shell artifacts discovered.

In general, Olivella saucers predominate during the Middle Period of California prehistory. Those with large perforations are particularly diagnostic of the early portions of the Middle Period of Central California (Bennyhoff and Fredrickson 1967:20; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:132) and the Middle Period of the Santa Barbara Channel (King 1982). Assemblages containing Type G3b large ring beads and Type G2b saucers with large perforations are especially characteristic of the Early Phase of the Middle Period in Central California, which dates from approximately 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. (Bennyhoff data in Elsasser 1978; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:149, Fig 10.B) The collection from CA-MNT-33a contains numerous examples of large G2b saucers, but with one possible exception (specimen 33a-10), is missing the Type G3b rings. This might indicate the assemblage is either at the earlier or later end of this period. On the other hand, it is possible the pattern is the result of sampling procedure, or perhaps even some unknown set of cultural events associated with the introduction of beads into the CA-MNT-33a archaeological deposit. It is less likely that Type G3 ring beads do not occur in the part of Central California during this time range since these have been found in early Middle contexts throughout the remainder of California and into the Great Basin (Bennyhoff and Heizer 1958; Bennyhoff and Fredrickson 1967; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987:132, Table 6; King 1982).

Figure 4. Olivella Wall Beads from CA-MNT-33a: Length x Perforation.

Type G2b Olivella saucers have been reported from other sites in the Monterey Bay region, and some of these have associated radiocarbon dates. Excavations in Monterey at CA-MNT-114 and CA-MNT-115 produced both early Middle Period C14 dates and Type G2b beads (Dietz and Jackson 1981). They also occurred at Soberanes Creek (CA-MNT-185) along the coast below Carmel (Fenenga 1979). A radiocarbon date of 2030 ± 220 B.P. (RL-1156) was obtained on shell found in close proximity. These beads also have been reported from CA-MNT-229 at Moss Landing in association with C14 dates and other diagnostic forms of Middle Period shell beads (Bennyhoff 1986).

It is worth noting that traces of asphaltum were observed on about one-third of the type G2b saucers (N=4). The presence of this material indicates these were probably originally appliqued or "glued" on to some object, rather than strung as beads. Interestingly, asphaltum was not noticed on any other bead types found at CA-MNT-33a.

Haliotis Ornament Fragment

A single fragmentary pendant made of abalone shell (Haliotis sp.) was found in the 42-48 inch level of Unit A1 (see Plate 1 and Figs. 1-3). The surviving portion is rectangular in shape. It has a small, (1.8 x 2.0 mm), centrally placed, oval perforation. The remaining portion of the artifact measures 11.1 x 7.5 x 0.8 mm, and is composed entirely of the nacreous portion of the original shell. It represents one end of an ornament which must have originally been somewhat longer. Presumably it was once a small, but relatively long and narrow pendant with a perforation at one end for suspension. The remaining perforated end is clearly rectangular in shape, although with slightly curved edges or "bulging" sides. The missing end could have been either pointed, rounded, or squared. Examples of each of these forms have previously been documented in archaeological collections from the Middle Period of California prehistory (cf. Bennyhoff data in Elsasser 1978; King 1982; and others). This general style of Haliotis pendant is therefore not incompatible with an early Middle to middle Middle age assessment of CA-MNT-33a. Long narrow pendants with a squared and perforated proximal end, and a pointed distal end, frequently occur in early Middle Period assemblages (cf. Bennyhoff 1978). It is possible the CA-MNT-33a specimen was originally of this form. Both square and rectangular Haliotis ornaments are known from Early Period sites in coastal Central California(cf. Bennyhoff 1978; Cartier 1984). Small, narrow, rectanguloid pendants also were common during other periods of prehistory, particularly in the end of the Early Period and in Phase 1 of the Late Period in the San Francisco Bay region, so other temporal interpretations are conceivable. The absence of decorative incising along the edges of either face of the artifact implies earlier rather than later affinities, since this trait is typical of Late Period ornaments. Since the Haliotis ornament from CA-MNT-33a is incomplete, it cannot be unambiguously classified into existing shell ornament typologies (e.g., Gifford 1947; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987).

Pendants and other ornaments made from Haliotis shell are quite often found associated with human burials in California. This fact, and the occurrence of the CA-MNT-33a specimen at the bottom of the cultural deposit, suggests the possibility human remains may be located somewhere in the near vicinity of this discovery.


The collection of shell artifacts from CA-MNT-33a is rather small (N=23), yet is important for several reasons. Very few shell bead and ornament assemblages have been described from this part of California and the CA-MNT-33a data add to the presently meager sample available for regional comparisons or other analysis. Small collections of shell artifacts are generally characteristic of sites in this region, particularly in the time range suggested by the beads from CA-MNT-33a.

Those bead types which are temporally diagnostic indicate the sampled area of CA-MNT-33a was undoubtedly occupied during the early and middle portions of the Middle Period of Central California prehistory. Roughly, this spans the period from about 100 B.C. to 500 A.D. There also is a possibility that use continued, or re-occurred, through the end of the Middle Period, or roughly around 700 to 900 A.D. The Type G2a Olivella saucers with relatively large perforations are diagnostic of the Early Phase of the Middle Period, while the Type F2a full saddle Olivella beads document use of the locale during the Intermediate Phase (Bennyhoff data in Elsasser 1978, and elsewhere; Bennyhoff and Fredrickson 1967; Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987; King 1982). The single Type C7 split amorphous bead, if properly classified, indicates a Middle/Late Period Transitional phase occupation (Bennyhoff and Hughes 1987).

Class A, spire-lopped Olivella bead types are quite common in this region, however the types found at CA-MNT-33a (Types A1b, A1c, and A3c) are not particularly useful for cross-dating purposes. It is possible the Class A beads could represent a temporal component not indicated by other bead forms, although this is not likely in light of their distribution within the sample (Figs. 3 and 4). The stratigraphic occurrence of Class A Olivella beads is limited to the middle levels of CA-MNT-33a with the exception of a single specimen found on the surface. This distribution, however, does suggest Class A beads may belong to a later temporal component than the Type G2b saucers found stratigraphically beneath them. Since all subsurface examples occurred below the one possible late Middle Period bead (Type C7), and absolutely no beads temporally diagnostic of later periods of prehistory were discovered, the most parsimonious explanation for the observed distribution of Class A beads is to associate them with an Intermediate Phase Middle Period component. It also is quite possible that whole shell Olivella beads move about within midden deposits differently than do cut shell beads as various taphonomic processes gradually degrade or modify such deposits through time. Thus, differential erosion may be a factor responsible for the stratigraphic patterns observed in the bead distributions at CA-MNT-33a. The co-occurrence of Type G2b saucers and Types A1b and A1c spire-lopped beads (often to the exclusion of other types), is relatively common in this area of California. Therefore, empirical assignment of the specimens from CA-MNT-33a to any temporal phase would ultimately require radiocarbon dating of the beads themselves.

A complete absence of Late Period bead types argues strongly for abandonment of the studied area of CA-MNT-33a sometime before 900 A.D., and perhaps as early as between 300 and 500 A.D. Changes in settlement patterns, or at least the function of this particular locality, are thus implied by the bead data. Similarly, the lack of Early Period bead types and those diagnostic of the earliest part of the Middle Period (Type G3 rings, Type G4 ground saucers, Type C1 split-beveled Olivella beads, etc.), all suggest the site was first utilized around 100 B.C. This is rather late in the Early Phase of the Middle Period (Bennyhoff data in Elsasser 1978, and elsewhere). The only available radiocarbon date from CA-MNT-33a is open to interpretation, but an uncorrected age of 335 B.C. (2285 ± 100 B.P.) generally supports an early Middle Period temporal estimate for the initial use of CA-MNT-33a, as suggested by the shell beads. The absence of certain other forms of shell beads and ornaments (such as Type F1 oval saddles) which are known from other sites of this same general age is rather puzzling. CA-MNT-33a is obviously tied into the Central California economic sphere, as evidenced by the two types of Class F Olivella saddle beads present in the collection. The occurrence of refuse from beadmaking activities at other sites in the Monterey area may indicate that was the source for beads found at CA-MNT-33a.

Shell artifacts usually occur with burials or are found inside houses in archaeological sites in California. More rarely they occur as isolated constituents in middens, unless they have been secondarily deposited, or the site has been extensively modified through natural pedogenic processes. Ground-dwelling organisms can gradually destroy archaeological features with which shell beads or other artifacts may have originally been associated (burials, architectural remains, activity areas, etc.), leaving the specimens intact but removed from their original context. This process may even occur as a village site is still being used, as older portions become abandoned, are buried, and weather away through time.

The dispersed pattern of bead distribution at CA-MNT-33a probably indicates the 1972 excavations encountered the living area of the site. The stratigraphic distribution of bead types and perforation data on Olivella wall beads may be taken as evidence of a certain amount of soil displacement within the area sampled in 1972. Perhaps this has in part resulted from the aboriginal construction of semi-subterranean houses in this area of CA-MNT-33a. This hypothesis is generally supported by evidence of soil disturbance, some stratigraphic reversal of temporally sensitive bead types, and the restricted distribution of Class A beads. The Haliotis pendant fragment may have originally been associated with a burial, and the possibility of nearby interments has been discussed.

Indices of both bead occurrence densities and diversity of bead types can be used to gauge socio-economic interactions within and between archaeological sites. There were seven different types of Olivella beads found at CA-MNT-33a. Based upon the relatively small and localized sample from this site, this represents a remarkable collection in comparison to many reported sites from this region. The fact that CA-MNT-33a has a relatively high bead diversity index, and one of the highest bead densities yet reported from a site containing no beadmaking refuse in Monterey County, indicate that this was probably either an important village, or served some sort of specialized socio-economic or ritualistic function. Given other data known from investigations at the site, the former suggestion remains the most likely explanation.

The site of CA-MNT-33a is situated along the middle part of the Carmel River Valley at a spot known to be on, or near, the ethnohistoric boundary between the Esselen tribe and the southernmost Costanoan groups (Cook 1974a; and others). This raises the obvious question of the ethnic identity of the inhabitants of the site. Although there are some distinctive regional characteristics, shell artifacts (especially beads) generally make poor ethnic markers because these were so widely traded throughout California. Exchange networks served to rapidly disseminate different styles produced in different regions over wide areas of the far west. Furthermore, the shell artifact assemblage from the excavated portion of CA-MNT-33a is too old to directly bear on either of the ethnohistoric groups in question. The beads, however, are relevant to the extent they suggest the site was probably abandoned during the latter portion of the Middle Period, or that a functional shift in the sampled areas use occurred about that time. Conceivably, this postulated change in the site's occupational history could be related to patterns of culture change which preceded and eventually lead to the distribution of ethnographic groups observed historically. Much more data would be required to examine any such proposition, and at this point any speculation about this topic would be premature.


The shell artifacts from CA-MNT-33a have provided important information about the antiquity of human occupation at the site and have broadened our overall understanding of prehistoric shell bead economics in prehistoric California. Temporally diagnostic bead types indicate they were deposited sometime between about 100 B.C. and 500 A.D. Olivella bead density and diversity indices both suggest that CA-MNT-33a was a relatively important village during this period of time. There also is a possibility that some use of the tested part of the site may have occurred as late as 700 to 900 A.D. The absence of earlier or later diagnostic shell artifact forms implies that the site was not inhabited during other periods of prehistory. It has been suggested the excavations probably sampled the living area used during this period. If the sampled part of the site was inhabited at any other point in prehistory, that use did not result in the incorporation of Olivella beads into the cultural deposit.

The small collection of materials examined in this study is typical of many of the shell artifact assemblages recovered from archaeological sites in California. Hopefully this report helps to illustrate the value of such collections for archaeological research and interpretation.


1 This report was originally written in 1982, and reflects my thinking at that time. I have elected not to make any substantive revisions, although more data are now available for comparison and certain changes may now be in order.

2 Howard (1974) refers to this site as "MNT-350, the Cal-Am Filter Plant Site," and says four units were excavated, although shell artifacts are present from five units. Breschini (personal communication, 1986) informs me that five pits were dug, and that CA-MNT-33a is the correct designation.

3 The single C14 date is from a unit (A1) in which no beads occurred, but a Haliotis ornament was found. This date was run on a single whole shell found at the base of the midden deposit. The depth reported for the radiocarbon date is 132 cm below the surface, while the deepest level containing shell artifacts was from 42-48 inches, or approximately 107-122 cm in depth.


Barrett, S. A., and E. W. Gifford. 1933 Miwok Material Culture. Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee 2(4).

Bass, Stephen T., and Stephen B. Andrews. 1977. Using a New Classification System on Kern County Indian Beads. Kern County Archaeological Society Journal, Number 1:9-24.

Bennyhoff, James A. 1978. Diagrams depicting artifactual and stylistic change in central California Prehistory. In: Development of Regional Cultures, by A.B. Elsasser, in the Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8: California, edited by R.F. Heizer, pp. 38-44. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Bennyhoff, James A. 1986. Shell Artifacts. In: Final Report of Archaeological Data Recovery Program at CA-MNT-229, Moss Landing, Monterey County, California, edited by S.A. Dietz, W. Hildebrandt, and T. Jones, pp. 224-250. Report on file, California Department of Transportation, Sacramento.

Bennyhoff, James A., and David A. Fredrickson. 1967. A Typology of Shell and Stone Beads from Central California. Unpublished manuscript on file, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Cultural Resources Division, Sacramento.

Bennyhoff, James A., and Robert F. Heizer. 1958. Cross-dating Great Basin Sites by Californian Shell Beads. University of California Archaeological Survey Reports 42:60-92.

Bennyhoff, James A, and Richard E. Hughes. 1987. Shell Bead and Ornament Exchange Networks Between California and the Western Great Basin. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 64 (Part 2):79-175.

Breschini, G.S., T. Haversat, and J. Erlandson. 1988. California Radiocarbon Dates. Fifth Edition. Coyote Press, Salinas.

Cartier, Robert R. 1979. Archeological Recovery Program, CALTRANS 01-Mon-1-65.8, CA-MNT-185, Soberanes Creek. Report on file, California Department of Transportation, Sacramento.

Cartier, Robert R. 1984. The Saunders Site (CA-MNT-391): Excavation and Preliminary Analysis. Paper presented at the Society for California Archaeology Northern California Data Sharing Meetings, October 1984, Cabrillo College, Aptos.

Cook, S. F. 1974a. The Esselen: Territory, Villages, and Population. Monterey County Archaeological Society Quarterly 3(2): 1-11.

Cook, S. F. 1974b. The Esselen: Language and Culture. Monterey County Archaeological Society Quarterly 3(3): 1-10.

Dietz, S.A., and T.L. Jackson. 1981. Report of Archaeological Excavations at Nineteen Archaeological Sites for the Stage 1 Pacific Grove-Monterey Consolidation Project Regional Sewerage System. Four volumes. Submitted to State Water Resources Control Board, Sacramento.

Elsasser, Albert B. 1978. Development of Regional Prehistoric Cultures. In Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8: California, edited by R. F. Heizer, pp. 37-57. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

Fenenga, Gerrit L. 1979. The Beads from CA-MNT-185. In: Archaeological Recovery Program, CALTRANS 01-Mon-1-65.8, Site CA-MNT-185, Soberanes Creek, edited by R. R. Cartier, pp. 60-62. Report on file, California Department of Transportation, Sacramento.

Gibson, Robert O. 1973. On the Nature of Beads. Paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the Society for California Archaeology, Riverside. Manuscript in possession of the author.

Gifford, E.W. 1947. Californian Shell Artifacts. University of California Anthropological Records 9(1):1-114.

Heizer, Robert F. 1966. Languages, Territories, and Names of California Indian Tribes. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Heizer, Robert F. 1974. The Costanoan Indians. Local History Studies, Volume 18. California History Center, De Anza College, Cupertino.

Hester, Thomas R. 1978. Esselen. In Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8: California, edited by R. F. Heizer, pp. 496-499. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

Howard, Donald M. 1974. MNT-350, The Cal-Am Filter Plant Site. In Archaeology in Paradise, by D. M. Howard, pp. 39-41. Antiquities Research Publications, Carmel.

King, C.D. 1982. The Evolution of Chumash Society: A Comparative Study of Artifacts Used in System Maintenance in the Santa Barbara Channel Region Before A.D. 1804. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Davis.

King, T.F. 1976. Political Differentiation Among Hunter-Gatherers: An Archaeological Test. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Riverside.

Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925 Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 78. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Levy, Richard. 1978. Costanoan. In Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8: California, edited by R. F. Heizer, pp. 485-495. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Lillard, J.B., R.F. Heizer, and F. Fenenga. 1939. An Introduction to the Archaeology of Central California. Sacramento Junior College, epartment of Anthropology Bulletin 2.

Pritchard, William E. 1984. Preliminary Archaeological Investigations at CA-MNT-101, Monterey, California. In Papers on Central California Prehistory: 1. Coyote Press Archives of California Prehistory 3:1-41. Salinas.

Roop, William, with Katherine Flynn. 1978. Heritage on the Half-Shell: Excavation at MNT-298. Report on file, City of Monterey, Urban Renewal Agency.

Copyrights 2022 californiaprehistory.com Back to the Top