Boulders, outcrops, caves: Documenting cultural use of landscape features in the San Diego region of California

Margie M. Burton, Jenny L. Adams, Mark D. Willis, Dani Nadel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cultural features such as mortars, basins, and slicks on rock outcrops, boulders, and cave floors have been identified in many parts of the world. They clearly evidence the long history of human use of landscape features; at the same time, they are under-investigated and not well incorporated into archaeological interpretation. Indeed, even accurate documentation of such features is rare, if presented at all. Advances in digital techniques offer archaeologists new tools to address the situation. We recently piloted a new methodological protocol for the efficient and precise documentation of cultural landscape features at two sites in San Diego County, California. In this paper, we describe techniques for the creation of a high-resolution model of each site, of specific rock outcrops or boulders within each site, and of individual cultural features by using Structure from Motion photogrammetry. We present examples of various analyses that are possible once the 3D models are constructed, on intra- and inter-site levels. Our use-wear studies of 159 features and of a curated handstone collection provide new insights into past use of shallow and deep features.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-24
Number of pages20
JournalQuaternary International
StatePublished - 2 Jun 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Begole Archaeological Research Grant Program, administered by the Anza-Borrego Foundation, for providing funding for this project. We also thank the California Department of Parks and Recreation for providing permits to study the sites within its jurisdiction. We were accompanied by Chuck Bennett, Colorado Desert Archaeological Society, and by Site Stewards Susan Gilliland and Lisa Pridmore during our study visit to CA-SDI-2537. We thank them for their guidance and assistance. Bonnie Bruce helped to orient our work at CA-SDI-9538, and our study areas there were selected during an on-site consultation with Carmen Lucas, Kwaaymii elder. We are grateful for their invaluable insights. Bill Gillespie and Ronit Nadel helped in the field and with logistical matters, and Laure Dubreuil consulted on use-wear analysis; we very much appreciate their help. Replicative grinding experiments conducted by Burton and Adams at the San Diego Archaeological Center with National Science Foundation support (BCS-0714727) informed our use-wear interpretations. Finally, we thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. All errors in fact or interpretation remain our own.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA


  • 3D models
  • Landscape features
  • Southern California
  • Structure from motion
  • Use-wear

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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