"Social Implications of Large-Scale Demographic Change During the Early Archaic Period in the Southeast"
I've loaded a pdf version of my 2016 SEAC presentation "Social Implications of Large-Scale Demographic Change During the Early Archaic Period in the Southeast" onto my Academia.edu page (you can also access a copy here). Other than a few minor alterations to complete the citations and adjust the slides to get rid of the animations, it's what I presented at the meetings last Friday. I tend to use slides as prompts for speaking, so some of the information that I tried to convey isn't directly represented on the slides. There's enough there that you can get a pretty good idea, I hope, of what I was going for.
I tend to be an introvert, which is one reason why it recharges me to spend time in my garage with just my scrap metal pile, the radio, and the rats. For me, conferences are a strange mix of intellectually stimulating and physiologically draining. I had to tap out of SEAC early Saturday afternoon: two and a half days of listening, thinking, talking, and interacting had worn me out.
Conference fatigue is one sign that you're doing it right. Another is leaving with more excitement and ideas than you walked in with. I can't speak for anyone else's experience, of course, but I saw some really interesting papers and talked to a lot of interesting people. A lot of the questions I'm interested in require information from a lot of different areas across large time spans, so I'm still in the process of working my way up the proficiency slope of Southeastern archaeology and learning as much as I can as quickly as I can. I apologize if I met you and you felt interrogated.
One of the major things I took home from this conference was that there has been an important broadening of enthusiasm for subjects that used to be considered bizarre, baseless, unscientific, and even too political for archaeology. I got the impression that talking about ritual, symbolism, and belief systems (hot topics for decades among those who focus on the materially-rich Middle Woodland and Mississippian "florescences" of the Eastern Woodlands) is now also quite common among those who work on the Paleoindian and Archaic periods. I saw numerous papers asking new questions about material remains, and they were fascinating.
The session that really brought the point home was a symposim titled "A Ritual Gathering: Celeberating the Work of Cheryl Claassen" (Session 3 in the program). Claassen, a professor at Appalachian State, has been pushing the boundaries of the archaeological conversation in the Eastern Woodlands for decades (you can see some of her work on her Academia.edu page). The papers in this session (many by her students) evoked responses in me ranging from "what a profoundly interesting thought" to "are you sure about that?" to "get off my case." It was great.
(As an aside, I wish that some of my friends on the "fringe" could have seen these papers. Perhaps if you witnessed a professional archaeologist discussing how the skeletal remains of immature bird wings in a feature were connected to the astronomical scheduling of seasonal ritual aggregation events, you'd have a better appreciation both for the kinds of questions that actual archaeology can address and the level of work it takes to convincingly address those questions. The claim that archaeologists are afraid to say anything new or different is preposterous.)
I want to state clearly that, in my opinion, the expansion of thought that was on display in the Claassen session is a positive thing with a lot of potential upside. As an advocate of a complex systems approach to understanding human cultures in the past, it makes perfect sense to me that ritual and belief are involved in both "bottom up" and "top down" aspects of human societies. I see no logical or analytical reason to assume that ritual and belief are epiphenomenal or unimportant compared to other domains of social, economic, and political life. It all matters, and it's all fair game for trying to flesh out the past as best we can and trying to explain, using all the tools at our disposal, how those societies worked and why and how they changed.
For me, however, my positive regard for the role of belief and ritual in human societies (and for the appropriateness of including it in our discussions) doesn't alleviate concerns about how we study it in the past tense. I know that I'm not alone here. I think several legitimate worries underlie uncertainties about both the approaches and the conclusions reached by those focused on belief and ritual.
One concern that's out there -- perhaps the major one -- is a feeling that the "ritual" people are jumping outside the established lines of scientific process in a way that undermines confidence in their conclusions. Talking with a few of my colleagues about this, I got the sense that people are not closed to the questions so much as they are skeptical of the methods (or the perceived lack of methods) used to address those questions.
I conceive of science as an inductive-deductive loop. On the inductive side, you create an explanation to fit a bunch of data. On the deductive side, you collect new information to test an expectation derived from your explanation. Ideally, the two sides of the loop are exploited together to create (eventually) a credible explanation that fits all the available information and makes further predictions about the world that are falsifiable but not falsified. As long as you get yourself into this loop, you're doing science. It doesn't really matter what the starting point is or where an idea comes from as long as you're willing to follow through and ride the inductive-deductive roller coaster around the track for as long as it takes.
Are there ways to skeptically evaluate ideas about Archaic ritual and belief systems and make sure we're utilizing the full power of the inductive-deductive loop? I'm sure that there are. What I'm less sure of, at this point anyway, is the presence of an appetite for the deductive side of the loop that matches the robust enthusiasm for climbing up the inductive side. No matter how interesting or appealing an interpretation is, you still have to put on the skeptic glasses and try to find the seams you can follow to figure out whether you're right or wrong.
The inductive-deductive loop is critical in archaeology because of all of our equifinality problems: there's usually more than one way something could have happened, so how do you know what the real cause was? You have to do the work to assemble independent lines of evidence, build theory, collect data, construct and test hypotheses, etc. You can't skip all that and just hug an assertion. Well, you can, but I won't buy what you're selling.
That leads me to a second concern: the burden of proof. Who's is it? Does it have to reside in one domain of inquiry, or is it the responsibility of the person making the claim no matter what the claim actually is? At one point in the session I heard the phrase "can you prove it's not a ritual assemblage?" I take the point of the question (which was used mainly, I think, to argue that we should always consider ritual as a possibility), but I'm uncomfortable with the notion that we should accept/assume that something is related to ritual unless we can prove it's not. I think we all realize that people's lives are often not partitioned neatly into "ritual" and "non-ritual" components, but that doesn't mean all activities should be presumed to be ritualistic in nature unless we can prove they're not. That seems to me to be out of bounds of the way good science is done. There has to be a positive case made for a claim, whether it's about ritual or not.
And that brings me to my third concern: the appeal to human "universals" to gird claims about past ritual behavior. Several times, in several different papers, I heard the assertion that all humans share a basic set of experiences in the material world and therefore all belief systems share a similar set of components tied to that material world: fire transforms, the sky is above and the earth is below, water goes down and smoke goes up, etc. This seems logical and may well be true (I haven't yet read through the arguments to evaluate them on my own). My concern is not that such universals don't exist, but that playing the "universal" card as the basis for analysis rather than an empirical problem may do two counter-productive things: (1) short circuit the inductive-deductive cycle by introducing a powerful, unvetted assumption; and (2) actually bland out the kind of contextual variability that could potentially be very interesting and analytically useful.
This last point is somewhat ironic. Many of the issues that the pursuit of ritual and belief articulates with have a particularly "post-processual" flavor. One of the main critiques leveled at the processual archaeology of the late twentieth century was that it didn't account for the meanings of objects in their contexts. Symbols and objects do not mean the same things in different cultures: context matters. It seems to me that by falling back to "universals" as explanation we're actually ignoring context altogether -- if something is present everywhere, what meaning does it actually have?
One of my professors at Southern Illinois University was fond of repeating the phrase "playing ethnosemantic tennis with the net down" (if my memory serves me right, he used the phrase in connection with criticisms of Claude Levi-Strauss). If we lay down a foundation of presumed "universals" and then build an analysis based on those, I worry that we're lowering the net significantly if not taking it down altogether. Opening things up is great for generating discussion and new approaches, but at some point the net has to go back up so we can have some mechanism for discriminating between credible and non-credible explanations.
I'm excited by what I saw and heard at SEAC. We've still got a long way to go to address many basic space-time issues for some of the questions that I and many others are interested in. That doesn't mean, of course, that we can't think about other additional things while that's going on. I bought Claassen's (2015) book Beliefs and Rituals in Archaic Eastern North America at SEAC. I look forward to seeing what's inside and comparing it to my own views and knowledge about the eastern Archaic. Nothing that I've said in this post should be construed as pointing at the content of the book, which I have not read yet. I anticipate the book will be a stimulating read. Should be fun!
Archaeological conferences serve several purposes. For me, there are three main attractions, all selfish: (1) meeting people; (2) learning about things I didn't know that I didn't know about; and (3) clarifying and catalyzing my own research. Conferences are fun, but they're also a bit mercenary -- I want something from them.
This year's Southeastern Archaeological Conference (SEAC) is in Athens, Georgia, which I hear is very nice. I put together a small symposium titled "Hunter-Gatherer Societies of the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene Southeast" (session 35 in the program). I originally wrote about the idea last April. We ended up with papers by seven presenters: Al Goodyear, Doug Sain, David Thulman and Maile Neel, Kara Bridgman Sweeney, Joe Wilkinson, Sarah Gilleland, and me. Here is the symposium abstract:
"Societies are groups of people defined by persistent social interaction. While the characteristics of the late Pleistocene and early Holocene hunter-gatherer societies of the Southeast certainly varied, archaeological data generally suggest that these societies were often geographically extensive and structurally complex. Patterns of artifact variability and transport, for example, demonstrate that small-scale elements (e.g., individuals, families, and foraging groups) were situated within much larger social fabrics. This session aims to explore the size, structure, and characteristics of early Southeastern hunter-gatherer societies, asking how patterns of face-to-face interactions at human scales “map up” to and are affected by larger social spheres."
I decided to use my contribution to think about the issue of a possible abandonment of the deep south during the later portion of the Early Archaic period. Here is the abstract for my presentation, titled "Social Implications of Large-Scale Demographic Change during the Early Archaic Period in the Southeast:"
"Previous studies of radiocarbon and projectile point distribution data have suggested the possibility of a significant shift in the distribution and/or behaviors of human populations during the later portion of the Early Archaic period (i.e., post-9000 RCYBP). This paper considers the evidence for an “abandonment” of large portions of the Southeast following the Kirk Corner Notched Horizon and explores (1) possible explanations for large-scale changes in the distribution of population in the Early Holocene and (2) how those demographic changes, if they occurred, might have articulated with social changes at the level of the family, foraging group, and larger societies."
I first became interested in the Early Archaic abandonment issue while reading Ken Sassaman's (2010) book Eastern Archaic, Historicized. Working on this presentation was fun because it forced me to try to think through some of the issues about how we would recognize a large-scale abandonment, what the abandonment process actually would have been like, and what the social ramifications might have been for the people and societies involved in that process. I'll tweak the presentation before I give it, but it's pretty close to done.
The first question is to ask is whether or not there was a large-scale abandonment of parts of the Southeast. On the surface (at least), I think the case is fairly compelling. Following the example of Faught and Waggoner's (2012) paper about Florida, I started compiling radiocarbon data from across the Eastern Woodlands to evaluate the idea. At 9,500 dates and counting, the radiocarbon database that I'm working on clearly supports the idea that there are far fewer than expected dates from 9000-7000 radiocarbon years before present (RCYBP) in the deep south:
A chi square easily defeats the null hypothesis: there just aren't as many radiocarbon dates from 9000-7000 RCYBP below the southern corner of South Carolina as you'd expect by chance. The pattern holds when you consider the number of dates during that period in the entire Atlantic Plain vs. the other major physiographic regions of the eastern United States (the Appalachian Highlands and the Interior Plains).
The idea of a large-scale abandonment is also consistent with the distribution of post-Kirk lobed/bifurcate projectile points, which (unlike Kirk), does not extend into Louisiana, Florida, and southern Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.
If we presume that a post-Kirk abandonment/marginalization of the Atlantic Plain did occur, we can move on to the "why" and "how" questions. Regarding the "why" question: the limited environmental data I've looked at (e.g., the 1980 pollen core from White Pond, South Carolina) suggest that the period 9000-7000 RCYBP was one of significant change. Oak and hickory decreased and pine increased. In simplest terms, this shift may have been related to a decrease in mast production, perhaps affecting the density of white-tailed deer (probably the primary game species for early Holocene hunter-gatherers in the Eastern Woodlands).
But how would an abandonment actually take place? I can think of several ways that populations could shift out of an area. My gut is that an abandonment of the Atlantic Plain during the late Early Archaic would have most probably involved a contraction of populations into the Appalachian Highlands and Interior Plains. One of my favorite of Lew Binford's papers is his (1983) discussion of how hunter-gatherers often make extensive use of the landscape. Keeping his examples in mind, it's easy to imagine how "abandonment" could actually be the end result of a long-term process involving segments of the population getting "pulled in" to better quality environments in the course of normal decisions about movement.
Assuming population size stayed constant, this shift would have necessarily involved changes in mobility. If (based on Midwestern data) we assume that Kirk "bands" had a group mobility radius of about 200 km, there would have been room for about 18 such "bands" in the Eastern Woodlands. If you took that same population and crammed them into an area 33% smaller (i.e., the Eastern Woodlands minus the Atlantic Plain), the scale of group mobility would have to be reduced by 17% (mobility radius of 165 km) to keep everything else the same.
That level of population contraction would have almost certainly had ramifications up and down the levels of those post-Kirk societies. Residential moves would have decreased in frequency and/or distance, there may have been shifts in logistical vs. foraging strategies, and the lowered "cost" of maintaining extra-local inter-personal relationships may have de-emphasized gift exchange and inter-group marriage as mechanism for creating and maintaining distant social ties.
It's possible to develop a suite of hypotheses and archaeological expectations to evaluate the idea of a large scale abandonment.
Make no mistake: these are long-term propositions. My entire dissertation, for example, was focused on using a combination of modeling and archaeological data to try to understand how changes in patterns of variability in material culture were related to changes in the characteristics and properties of social networks. It's not trivia, and it's not easy.
For me, this presentation was a machine for thinking. I can't "prove" anything, but going through the process of committing to an idea and preparing a presentation has forced me to attempt to think through some complex, interesting issues. I'm hoping I'll get some good feedback on my ideas ("interesting" and/or "you're full of it"), which obviously involve an extensive geographic area that I make no claim to have mastered.
I also hope to take full advantage of my hotel and at least quadruple my supply of ink pens. Every little bit helps.
We're now into the fourth week of the semester here at the University of South Carolina. As usual I've been writing for this blog less than I'd like (I have several unfinished draft posts and ideas for several more, and there's currently a backlog of Fake Hercules Swords). A good chunk of my time/energy is going into the Forbidden Archaeology class (you can follow along on the course website if you like -- I've been writing short synopses, and student-produced content will begin to appear a few weeks from now). Much of the remainder has gone into pushing forward the inter-locking components of my research agenda. This is a brief update about those pieces.
Small-Scale Archaeological Data
At the beginning of the summer I spent a little time in the field doing some preliminary excavation work at a site that contains (minimally) an intact Archaic component buried about 1.9 meters below the surface (see this quick summary). Based on the general pattern here in the Carolina Piedmont and a couple of projectile points recovered from the slump at the base of the profile, my guess is that buried cultural zone dates to the Middle Archaic period (i.e., about 8000-5000 years ago).
My daughter washed some of the artifacts from the site over the summer, and I've now got an undergraduate student working on finishing up the washing before moving on to cataloging and labeling. Once the lithics are labeled we'll be able to spread everything out and start fitting the quartz chipping debris back together. Because I piece-plotted the large majority of the lithic debris, fitting it back together will help us understand how the deposit was created. I'm hoping we can get some good insights into the very small-scale behaviors that created the lithic deposit (i.e.,perhaps the excavated portion of the deposit was created by just one or two people over the course of less than an hour).
Drawing of the deposits exposed in profile. The numbers in the image are too small to read, but the (presumably) Middle Archaic zone is the second from the bottom if you look at the left edge of the drawing. Woodland/Mississippian pit features are also exposed in the profile nearer the current ground surface.
When the archaeology faculty met to discuss the classes we'd be offering in the spring semester, I pitched the idea of running a one-day-per-week field school at the site. Assuming I can get sufficient enrollment numbers, that looks like it's going to happen. The site is within driving distance of Columbia, so we'll be commuting every Friday (leaving campus at 8:00 and returning by 4:00). The course will be listed as ANTH 322/722. It's sand, it's three dimensional, and it's pretty complicated -- it's going to be a fun excavation. I'll be looking to hire a graduate student to assist me on Fridays, and I'll be applying for grant monies to cover the costs of the field assistant's wages, transportation, and other costs associated with putting a crew in the field.
Large-Scale Archaeological Data
Some parts of my quest to assemble several different large-scale datasets are creeping along, some are moving forward nicely, and some are still on pause.
Complex Systems Theory and Computer Modeling
Complex systems theory is what will make it possible to bridge the small and large scales of data that I'm collecting. Last year, I invested some effort into transferring my latest computer model (FN3_D_V3) into Repast Simphony and getting it working. I also started building a brand new, simpler model to look at equifinality issues associated with interpreting patterns of lithic transport (specifically to address the question of whether or not we can differentiate patterns of transport produced via group mobility, personal mobility between groups, and exchange).
As it currently sits, the FN3_D_V3 model is mainly demographic, lacking a spatial component. Over the summer I used it to produce data relevant to understanding the minimum viable population (MVP) size of human groups. Those data, which I'm currently in the process of analyzing, suggest to me that the "magic number of 500" is probably much too large: I have yet to find evidence in my data that human populations limited to about 150 people are not demographically viable over spans of several hundred years even under constrained marriage rules. But I've just started the analysis, so we'll see. I submitted a paper on this topic years ago with a much cruder model and didn't have the stomach to attempt to use that model to address the reviewers' comments. I'm hoping to utilize much of the background and structure of that earlier paper and produce a new draft for submission quickly. I also plan to put the FN3_D_V3 code online here and at OpenABM.org once I get it cleaned up a bit. I also discuss this model in a paper in a new edited volume titled Uncertainty and Sensitivity Analysis in Archaeological Computational Modeling (edited by Marieka Brouwer Burg, Hans Peeters, and William Lovis).
How big does a human population have to be to remain demographically viable over a long span of time? Perhaps not as big as we think. The numbers along the bottom axis code for marriage rules (which will be explained in the paper). Generally, the rules get more strict from left to right within each category: 2-0-1 basically means there are no rules, while 2-3-8 means that you are prohibited from marrying people within a certain genetic distance and are compelled to choose marriage partners from within certain "divisions" of the population.
It will be a relatively simple thing to use the FN3_D_V3 model in its non-spatial configuration to produce new data relevant to the Middle Paleolithic mortality issue I discussed at the SAA meetings a couple of years ago. I'm also going to be working toward putting the guts of the demographic model into a spatial context. That's going to take some time.
I've been spending most of my discretionary work time over the last couple of weeks grinding through the process of getting my computer models up and running again. The main challenges have involved converting my models from Repast J to Repast Simphony. While the Java components are the same, the "world" of the models is structured differently in Simphony. So I've had to try to figure out how to re-connect the various parts of the models using what Simphony calls "context." I can't yet say I fully understand how "context" works, but I got my ForagerNet3_Demography_V3 (FN3_D_V3) model up and running by trial and error and looking at examples of code from other models.
Since I haven't figured out to configure the model to use the batch run GUI (I haven't even been able to find it yet, although it apparently exists somewhere in Eclipse), I've been using a primitive parameters file to do batch runs. As I wrote on Friday, these batches would throw an "Out of Memory" error and freeze up around the fortieth run. That suggested some kind of memory leak where object produced during a run were not being deleted before the next run. The gradual accumulation of unused objects eats up the memory until there isn't any left to use to run the model, then it dies.
After going through the code several times and trying a bunch of options, I think I finally found the culprit(s) and made the corrections. I set the model to run 500 times a couple of days ago, and things seemed to be chugging along just fine (when I got to my office this morning it was at run number 720-something, so clearly I didn't have the "stop" command implemented correctly). Anyway, I've now got a batch of new data that I can compare with data produced by the model when it was implemented in Repast J. The figure below compares old model data (left) with new model data (right). It is gratifying to see the model is behaving the same.
The data on the left are from a paper of mine ("The Sensitivity of Demographic Characteristics to the Strength of the Population Stabilizing Mechanism in a Model Hunter-Gatherer System") that will be published in an upcoming volume titled Uncertainty and Sensitivity Analysis in Archaeological Computational Modeling (edited by Marieka Brouwer Burg, J. H. M. Peeters, and William A. Lovis; Springer).
I'm happy that this model is back in business. I'll do some more testing to make certain everything is working, then I'll clean up the code and make it available on this website and under my profile at OpenABM. I plan to use this model for some work on the demographic viability of small populations and, perhaps, to push ahead with exploring demography, mortality, and fertility during the Middle Paleolithic.
I had some time today to upload some current Kirk Project files and do a little re-organization of the pages. The main page is still located here, but I've split off some of the content that used to be on that page and created separate pages for datasets, a list of 3D models organized by state (so far they're all from South Carolina), embedded links to 3D models organized by ID number, and 2D images. There is nothing on the 2D image page yet, but my plan is to start adding images as I have time.
I've been steadily accumulating 3D models (there are 22 now that I've uploaded to Sketchfab). I still haven't started wrestling with them to extract usable morphometric data, but I've got a plan for a paper that will compare variability in the large, surface collected sample from Allendale County (South Carolina) to the variability present in smaller assemblages from excavated contexts (and shorter windows of time). One of those assemblages will be the Nipper Creek cache. Another (hopefully) will be the Kirk material from G. S. Lewis-East. Hopefully I'll be able to get one or two more "narrow time window" assemblages.
In terms of data, I've produced an updated GIS map of the current sample (n=905). It now includes several points from Pennsylvania (donated by Bill Wagner). I've also provided a file of the metric data that I have for 699 of those points. As explained on the data page, the sample of points for which metric data are available is smaller than the larger Kirk sample because I did not measure all of the points during my dissertation work (some were too fragmentary) and I have not started generating linear measurements of the points I'm adding now.
The linear measurements have alphabetic designations (A through I, as defined in this figure). I calculated them by digitizing landmarks using a freeware package, and it was kind of a pain in the butt. I'm hoping to find a better software package than I used before, and I plan on adding some additional 2D dimensions/angles since I won't also be dealing with lanceolate points.
I did not produce 3D models of any of the points in my dissertation dataset, as I did not have access to the equipment to do that at the time.
I plan on adding a "Contributors" page soon. And I hope to start incorporating more data from external sources in the dataset. I've got lines on some data from Ohio, Tennessee, and a few other areas. I would love to start filling in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.
As I mentioned briefly in a post yesterday, I've become interested in looking into the evidence for an abandonment of large portions of the Southeast at the end of the Early Archaic period.
This (2012) paper by Michael Faught and James Waggoner provides an example of how this could be done on a state-by-state basis. Faught and Waggoner use multiple lines of evidence to evaluate the idea of a population discontinuity between the Early Archaic and Middle Archaic periods in Florida. One of the things they discuss is the presence of a radiocarbon data gap between about 9000 and 8000 radiocarbon years before present (RCYBP). They are able to identify that gap (which is consistent with a significant drop in or lack of population at the end of the Early Archaic using a dataset of 221 pre-5000 RCYBP radiocarbon dates from Florida.
Assembly of radiocarbon datasets for states across the Eastern Woodlands would be really useful for seeing if there is a similar "gap" in other areas of the Southeast that correlates with technological and statigraphic discontinuities. It seems to me that small bifurcate points (e.g., LeCroy cluster) and/or larger lobed points (e.g., Rice Lobed cluster) are good candidates for marking a contraction or retreat of late Early Archaic hunter-gatherer populations. While common in the Midwest, such points are absent (?) from Florida and present in only parts of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama.
I'm aware of the Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia Radiocarbon Database published by Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc. I'm wondering if there are similar existing compilations (either print or electronic) for other eastern states, especially those south of the Ohio River. I've only spent a short amount of looking, but I haven't come across any yet. At the risk of being accused of being lazy, I thought I'd throw the question out there and see what turns up. I will be very surprised if radiocarbon compilations haven't been produced for many areas of the east, and it seems worthwhile to ask about existing resources (which may not yet be easily "discoverable" online) before I contemplate yet another large-scale data mining effort. Please let me know if you can help.
Update (3/27/2016): I've created this "Eastern Woodlands Radiocarbon Compilation" page to store links and references to radiocarbon compilations.
I'm going to skip the usual discussion of how I wish I had more time to write, and go straight to the summary of things I would've written about if I had more time. I'm limiting myself to one paragraph per topic.
Abandonment of the Southeast During the Early Archaic
I finally finished reading Ken Sassaman's (2010) The Eastern Archaic, Historicized (previous posts here and here). I had a nice email exchange with Sassaman. Reading his book has gotten me thinking about some new questions to ask of the Archaic record in the Eastern Woodlands. The suggestion that a large part of the Southeast (south of the Ohio River) was abandoned or very thinly populated/used during the later part of the Early Archaic, connected to the scenario of a population influx during the Middle Archaic, is something that can be evaluated empirically by (I think) assembling data that we've already got on hand. The northward retreat of Early Archaic populations that seems to be marked by the distribution of bifurcate points in South Carolina (see David Anderson's 1991 paper referenced in this post) prompted me to look into Early Archaic point chronology in Florida. Sassaman directed me to this very nice (2012) paper by Michael Faught and James Waggoner. Faught and Waggoner's discussion of multiple lines of data (radiocarbon, typological, and statigraphic sequences) relevant to evaluating the idea of Early/Middle Archaic population discontinuities in Florida could be used as a blueprint for state-by-state studies across the east.
Eight Wheels of Death: Totally Worth Seven Dollars
This post marks two firsts: my first mention of roller derby and my first movie review. The short film Eight Wheels of Death is a homegrown effort associated with the Bleeding Heartland Roller Derby in Bloomington, Indiana. I picked up a copy when I went to see my daughter skate last weekend (she's in the junior league Bloomington ThunderBirds). The movie is about what you'd expect, and that's going to be the extent of my review (here's the trailer).It was not the cinematography that made it worth $7 to me, but the fact that purchasing it supports roller derby. I was pretty impressed with the creativity, energy, and team-building that I saw both at my daughter's practice and at the actual event. I didn't see much of the adult league match (a hometown contest between the Farm Fatales and the Slaughter Scouts) because I got drafted for a shift in the concession stand, but I came away with both a lot of positive feelings and substantial curiosity about roller derby. As best I can tell, we're now in at least the fourth or fifth generation of popularity of roller derby. There's a really interesting history as to how this activity has changed over the decades as its popularity has cyclically risen and fallen. I'm not anywhere close to understanding it, but it's fascinating. And it's also got me pondering why and under what circumstances we sometimes (but not always) describe cultural/technological change as "generational." It seems like identifying "generations" is kind of a real-time way of temporal typologizing (imposing nominal categories on more-or-less continuous variation). We do it for fighter aircraft and roller derby, but not for basketball and cars.
The Siege of Fort Motte and the Carolina Spring
I spent Friday working with Steve Smith (Director of SCIAA) and two volunteers on a survey at Fort Motte, site of a Revolutionary War siege and battle. There is a lot of interesting historic period archaeology here, and going out with Steve was a nice opportunity to participate and learn something new. Steve and Jim Legg are using systematic metal detecting survey, among other things, to try to pin down where on the landscape various parts of the Fort Motte story unfolded. Yesterday we were working in the general area where some of the Patriot forces would have been camped during the siege. We found several good colonial-period artifacts (e.g., a musket ball, cast iron kettle fragments, and a brass finial probably from a flag or spontoon), I got some experience using a metal detector, and had a good time talking with the volunteers. I also saw the first dragonfly I've seen so far this year, and got to complain about the early March heat. It really is a different world down here as far as the weather. I'm going to need to hustle if I'm going to get any of my own fieldwork going before the spring explosion of plant growth makes things like long distance total station work impossible.
Swordgate: Is the Fifteenth of Nevuary Finally Upon Us?
Various promises and hints about the release of the 200-page paper that will present the case for the "Roman sword from Nova Scotia" have yet to turn into anything tangible, and I've stopped paying attention. The last I heard (weeks ago), at that was left to prepare the document was completion of spell check. The "just around the corner" nonsense is boring. Somebody please wake me up if the paper ever materializes.
I'm now on chapter 5 (out of 6) of Ken Sassaman's (2010) book The Eastern Archaic, Historicized. As I wrote a few days ago, Sassaman's book is a fascinating attempt to re-boot our understanding of the Archaic archaeology of the Eastern Woodlands. It takes a fresh look at change over the course of the eight millennia of the eastern Archaic, augmenting the familiar processual lens (with it's focus on ecology and adaptation) with one that foregrounds historically-continent phenomena such as migration, diaspora, ethnogenesis, and short-term events. It's a good read.
The Eastern Woodlands is a big area, and I don't know any archaeologist who claims mastery of all of it. As far as the Archaic, the part I'm most familiar with probably remains the central Ohio Valley and the lower Great Lakes. I worked in southern, central, and northern Indiana for a total of nine or ten years, give or take, between the mid-1990s and 2006.
One of the first peer-reviewed papers I authored was this 2003 Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology (MCJA) paper on Middle Archaic bone pins. These pins -- small, carved bone objects that may have served as hair pins or parts of clothing -- have been found at several sites in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys dating to about the period 6000-5000 RCYBP. The pins vary in both head shape and the engraved decoration. Dick Jefferies (University of Kentucky) has written a lot about the pins. I'll reproduce a couple of figures from my MCJA paper to show you some of the main sites that have produced the pins (there may be more now -- I haven't kept up with the literature) and the range of shape and decoration.
Sassaman (2010:129) discusses the pins in the context of his ideas about Middle/Late Archaic social boundaries and ethnogenesis. Following Jefferies' analyses, he suggests that variation in the pins is essentially telling us about the composition and external relationships of the societies that made them:
". . . Jefferies (2004, pp. 71-73) views diversity in style as a measure of social diversity and the distribution of styles as a proxy for social networks.
Among the broader inferences Jefferies was able to make with bone pin data is that the Ohio River was a definite boundary separating cultural traditions fully engaged in the production of bone items."
The impetus for my 2003 MCJA paper was to ask if any the variability in the pins was related to time. The carved and engraved pins were produced, after all, over a period of at least 1000 radiocarbon years. If styles come and go through time (as they tend to do), then the mixtures of styles present at any one site may be a result of the passing of time in addition to (or instead of) various kinds of social interactions. This is an analytically important issue: it's tough to interpret variation correctly if you don't have a handle on the time component. Imagine trying to use junkyards to understand the structure of the auto industry without knowing that a '57 Chevy comes from a different era than a '95 Toyota.
Based on what I did, I think there's a good case to be made that at least some of the variation in pin characteristics is temporal. I used combinations of head type and decoration to create a seriation of the bone pins. I combined the relative sequence suggested by the seriation with radiocarbon data to produce a chronology:
My chronology, which I regard as preliminary, suggested that square-top an fishtail pins were produced relatively early in the sequence and t-top and crutch-top pins rather late. Not having kept up with the literature (and falling out-of-touch with many of my colleagues actively doing CRM in the Ohio Valley), I do not know whether pins discovered since the MCJA paper have falsified the chronology I proposed. Occurences of t-top or crutch-top pins prior to 5500 RCYBP or square-top or fishtail pins after 5500 RCYBP would suggest that the ordering and dating of my chronology is wrong. I would be interested to know about pin finds since 2002, or any other sources of data that are relevant (I'm travelling right now and don't have access to my printed sources and the time/space to spread everything out and have a fresh look).
Carved bone pins were produced during the Middle/Late Archaic in several areas of the Eastern Woodlands, and there is significant variability both within and between these regions. This 2004 paper by Dick Jefferies ("Regional-Scale Interaction Networks and the Emergence of Cultural Complexity along the Northern Margins of the Southeast") discusses the Midwestern pins and others. Jefferies (2004:Figure 4.3) illustrates pins from the Savannah River region that appear (at least superficially) to share some design elements with pins from the Midwest. The Stallings Island pin assemblage appears to contain pins very similar to the crutch-top or t-top styles, which is interesting given the general time range of Stallings Island (ca. 4500-3500 BP?) relative to the late positioning of the style in my preliminary chronology from the Midwest (ca. 5000 RCYBP). I'll have to take some time to get caught up and go through the available data carefully and see if it's worth formally revisiting the issue of temporal variation in pin styles in the context of Sassaman's ideas about the Archaic.
A comment on yesterday's blog post about the Middle Archaic brought up the issue of the origin and age of the Carolina bays. The bays are elliptical depressions with a northwest-southeast orientation. They vary significantly in size and occur along the Atlantic coast in a band extending from New Jersey to Florida. There is a similar set of features (with different orientations) in Nebraska and Kansas.
Carolina bays are interesting for several reasons. They're obviously peculiar, geographically-widespread features formed by some sort large scale event or natural process. There is significant disagreement as to how and when formed and, subsequently, their relationship to the early prehistory of the Eastern Woodlands. The most dramatic scenario sees the Carolina bays as impact sites from debris that rained down after an apocalyptic comet strike 12,900 years ago that triggered the Younger Dryas and caused the "extinction" of the Clovis peoples. The less dramatic scenario sees them as results of some regular terrestrial process that ran its course well before humans were even present in the region.
How did the Carolina bays form?
Today there are two main schools of thought about how the Carolina bays formed: (1) through wind-wave action associated with Pleistocene conditions unlike those of today; and (2) as impact sites of debris ejected by a comet strike in Michigan or Canada.
My impression is that the geomorphological (i.e., terrestrial) explanation enjoys a lot of support from geologists who specialize in the Pleistocene. I'm just going to paste in a paragraph from the Wikipedia entry that sums it up:
"Quaternary geologists and geomorphologists argue that the peculiar features of Carolina bays can be readily explained by known terrestrial processes and repeated modification by eolian and lacustrine processes of them over the past 70,000 to 100,000 years. Also, Quaternary geologists and geomorphologists believe to have found a correspondence in time between when the active modification of the rims of Carolina bays most commonly occurred and when adjacent sand dunes were active during the Wisconsinan glaciation between 15,000 and 40,000 years (Late Wisconsinan) and 70,000 to 80,000 years BP (Early Wisconsinan). In addition, Quaternary geologists and geomorphologists have repeatedly found that the orientations of the Carolina bays are consistent with the wind patterns which existed during the Wisconsinan glaciation as reconstructed from Pleistocene parabolic dunes, a time when the shape of the Carolina bays was being modified."
The second proposition -- that the bays were formed in connection with an extraterrestrial impact -- is the more exciting one. It has been around for a while in various forms (so far the earliest paper I've seen dates to 1933; here is a paper from 1975). Proponents of this idea point to the elliptical shape of the bays, their peculiar orientations and limited geographic distribution, and other characteristics that appear difficult to explain using the terrestrial model (why, for example, do similar features occur in Nebraska?).
This page proposes that
" . . . a catastrophic impact manifold deposited a blanket distal ejecta up to 10 meters deep in a set of butterfly arcs across the continental US. We have modeled the blanket as a ballistically deposited hydrous slurry of sand and ice originating from a cosmic impact into the Illinoisan ice sheet, and propose that Carolina bay landforms were created during the energetic deflation of steam inclusions at the time of ejecta emplacement."
In other words, an oblique comet strike on the continental ice sheet (this paper says the orientations of the bays suggest the impact site was located at Saginaw Bay, Michigan) and ejected into the air a massive load of sand and ice. That debris landed in an pair of arcs, one stretching across the Atlantic coastal plain and forming the Carolina bays.
You'll notice I have bolded the word "Illinoisan" in the quote above. That brings us to the next question.
When did the Carolina bays form?
Multiple lines of evidence suggest that, even if the Carolina bays were the result of an extraterrestrial event rather than terrestrial processes, they formed long before humans were present in eastern North America. The Illinoian stage of the Pleistocene referenced above dates to about 190-130 thousand years ago.
This paper by Mark Brooks et al. (2001) discusses stratified sequences of natural deposits in a Carolina bay that have been directly dated by radiocarbon to tens of thousands of years before the Younger Dryas (12,900 years ago) impact proposed by Firestone et al. (2007). That paper also details encroachment of a sand dune over and into a Carolina bay at around 48,000 years ago, indicating that the bay has to be older than 48,000 years.
Because many Carolina bays held water, they were attractive to both animals and humans in the regions they occurred. This 2010 paper (also with Mark Brooks as senior author) describes the presence of archaeological sites associated with Carolina bays near the Savannah River. Clovis artifacts are associated with the bays, which means that the bays could not have been the result of some event that "wiped out" the Clovis peoples: the bays were there before, during, and after the Early Paleoindian period.
I used "terrestrial or extraterrestrial" in the title of this post because I thought it would attract readers. While I'm curious about that question, however, it doesn't ultimately appear to have much bearing on the early prehistory of the Eastern Woodlands. The Carolina bays, however they were formed, predate the Paleoindian period by at least tens of thousands of years - there's a lot of positive evidence for that. Even if a comet strike at about 12,900 years ago did precipitate the Younger Dryas and cause environmental changes to which human societies would have had to adjust, that impact did not produce the Carolina bays.
No-one would have been around to experience the effects of a very ancient (e.g., Illinoian age) impact into the ice sheet. Maybe I should have titled this post "If a comet hits the ice but there's no-one around to see it, does it make a difference?" It does, of course, if it re-shaped the environment in some way that was significant to later peoples. But I don't think it is those kinds of effects that most extraterrestrial impact fans are excited about.
All views expressed in my blog posts are my own. The views of those that comment are their own. That's how it works.
Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_A_White
Email me: email@example.com
Sick of the woo? Want to help? Please consider contributing to Woo War One (a small and somewhat silly GoFundMe campaign). All proceeds will be used to fight the woo.