||L. Mark Raab, Jim Cassidy, Andrew Yatsko, William J. Howard
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Islands have long fascinated archaeologists, not only because of their isolation, but also for the opportunities they provide to examine profound cultural changes in circumscribed environments. The various controversies over the first settlement and ecological devastation of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), for example, suggest that students of ancient societies are attracted to remote land masses. Relative to its size, Rapa Nui has one of the densest concentrations of archaeologists in the world. Quite apart from its enigmatic moiae, the ancestors who presided over now-vanished societies, fieldworkers flock there to answer fundamental questions about island societies. Southern California's Channel Islands have long been a crucible of archaeological investigation. Generations of fieldworkers have delved into the origins and development of the maritime Chumash societies of the Santa Barbara Channel, one of the most complex hunter-gatherer societies on earth. A huge literature now encompasses both the mainland and island Chumash, especially in the context of the close relationships between the Northern Channel Islands and mainland communities. Numerous important studies have focused on the reasons for emerging social complexity on both sides of the channel. Debates about the increasing sophistication of Chumash societies have revolved around many issues, notably those of trade in shell beads, acorns, and other commodities, and also seafaring. The remarkable Chumash toniol, a distinctive planked canoe with excellent seafaring qualities, has long been at the center of these discussions— which is hardly surprising, given the unique nature of the tomol's design and impressive handling in open water. When did these remarkable craft come into being, and where did they originate? Were they the catalysts for more complex maritime societies in the Santa Barbara region? These questions are hotly debated and still unresolved. The scope of the debates has widened over the past twenty years, with the publication of important paleoclimatic data from tree rings on land and deep-sea cores of impressive resolution from the Santa Barbara Channel itself. After over a century of research, we are on the verge of major breakthroughs in our understanding of ancient island societies.