Dominican friars operated Mission Santa Catalina, Baja California, Mexico, from 1797 to 1840, primarily drawing neophytes from local hunter-gatherer groups. Today the descendants of these neophytes still live in the vicinity of the mission ruins, in the Paipai community of Santa Catarina. This outcome, however, was far from certain. The mission period was particularly devastating for the native peoples of the region and the Paipai are one of the few indigenous groups in Baja California who still maintain a distinct tribal identity.

Under the supervision of Dr. Kent Lightfoot, Mr. Lee Panich will conduct his dissertation research on artifacts excavated from Mission Santa Catalina. This investigation into the lives of the Paipai who lived and worked at Mission Santa Catalina will help to develop models of cultural persistence that can explain the varied outcomes that the colonial period had for indigenous groups across the Americas.

Excavations at the site of Mission Santa Catalina were focused on two neophyte habitation areas located directly outside the mission quadrangle and characterized by dense cultural deposits. These excavations have produced a significant number of artifacts dating to the mission period including native pottery, animal bones, charred botanical remains, stone tools and associated byproducts, as well as a limited number of colonial goods such as Mexican and Asian ceramics. The analysis of these artifacts will focus on determining how certain hunting and gathering practices as well as trade and social relationships were both changed and maintained during the mission period. For example, x-ray fluorescence analysis will be conducted on a sample of native ceramics and worked obsidian in order to determine the geological source of the raw material in question. This information will in turn shed light on the ties native people may have had to regions and communities outside of the mission. Faunal and botanical analysis will show which species of wild and domestic animals and plants were being used and consumed by mission neophytes, giving insight into whether or not native people accepted or rejected introduced foods and practices. Similarly, colonial goods recovered from indigenous contexts will be examined to understand how native people may have used new materials and concepts in culturally specific ways. Historic documents, previous ethnographic accounts, and Paipai oral traditions will also be used to contextualize the nature of social life at Mission Santa Catalina.

Through the use of archaeological, ethnographic, and historical evidence, this project will examine the cultural and social factors that facilitated the persistence of Paipai identity at Mission Santa Catalina with the goal of advancing models of cultural persistence that may be used to understand better past instances of culture contact and colonialism. Issues of identity and cultural persistence are of paramount importance for Native American communities today as they continue to negotiate with various private and government agencies over issues of territory, sovereignty, and cultural resources. Members of the Paipai descendant community are integrated into the project to ensure that this research aids community goals, and tribal members additionally have the opportunity to learn archaeological field methods. This project is also part of a growing collaboration between U.S. and Mexican researchers who are working together to share data and ideas and to preserve the cultural resources of the border region.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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University of California Berkeley
United States
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