Spatial and diachronic patterns in skeletal evidence for three forms of violence were evaluated for central California with information from a bioarchaeological database that contains information on 16,820 burials from 329 sites. The most abundant form of violence was sharp force/projectile trauma (462/6278, 7.4%), followed by blunt force craniofacial trauma (264/6202, 4.3%) and trophy-taking/dismemberment (87/12,603, 0.7%). Signs of violence were concentrated in the area with the highest ethnographic population densities (Sacramento River), but also in the southern San Francisco Bay area which seems to have been a contested interface zone between established residents and incoming migrants. Sharp force/projectile trauma was also high in the Sierra Nevada following introduction of the bow and arrow, and violence in general was more common among males, although there is less of a sex-difference among individuals with blunt force craniofacial injuries in central California relative to southern California, suggesting greater participation by females in this form of violence as attested by historic eyewitness accounts. Temporal patterning shows two episodes of elevated violence: the Early Middle Period (500 cal B.C.–cal A.D. 420) when trophytaking/dismemberment peaked, and the Protohistoric/Historic Period (cal A.D. 1720–1899) marked by high levels of blunt force craniofacial and projectile trauma. The Protohistoric/Historic peak, preceded by the appearance of the bow and arrow ca. A.D.1000–1200 and an associated upturn in projectile violence, is attributed to the arrival of Europeans into southwestern North America 250 years before their permanent settlement in California ca. A.D. 1769.
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