Folsom

Folsom: New Archaeological Investigations of a Classic Paleoindian Bison Kill

DAVID J. MELTZER
MEENA BALAKRISHNAN
DONALD A. DORWARD
VANCE T. HOLLIDAY
BONNIE F. JACOBS
LINDA SCOTT-CUMMINGS
TODD A. SUROVELL
JAMES L. THELER
LAWRENCE C. TODD
ALISA J. WINKLER
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 387
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppnbg
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  • Book Info
    Folsom
    Book Description:

    In the late 1920s outside a sleepy remote New Mexico village, prehistory was made. Spear points, found embedded between the ribs of an extinct Ice Age bison at the site of Folsom, finally resolved decades of bitter scientific controversy over whether the first Americans had arrived in the New World in Ice Age times. Although Folsom is justly famous in the history of archaeology for resolving that dispute, for decades little was known of the site except that it was very old. This book for the first time tells the full story of Folsom. David J. Meltzer deftly combines the results of extensive new excavations and laboratory analyses from the late 1990s, with the results of a complete examination and analysis of all the original artifacts and bison remains recovered in the 1920s - now scattered in museums and small towns across the country. Using the latest in archaeological method and technique, and bringing in data from geology and paleoecology, this interdisciplinary study provides a comprehensive look at the adaptations and environments of the late Ice Age Paleoindian hunters who killed a large herd of bison at this spot, as well as a measure of Folsom's pivotal role in American archaeology.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93244-9
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. CONTRIBUTORS LIST
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    David J. Meltzer
  5. ONE Introduction: The Folsom Paleoindian Site
    (pp. 1-21)
    DAVID J. MELTZER

    The Folsom site, in Colfax County, New Mexico (29CX1, LA 8121), is one of the most widely known archaeological localities in North America. It is routinely mentioned in archaeological texts, regularly appears on maps of notable American sites, and, of course, served historically as the type locality for the Folsom Paleoindian period—a slice of time and a distinctive archaeological culture dating from about 10,900 to 10,200 radiocarbon years before the present (hereafter,14C yr B.P.).¹ Folsom is on the National Register of Historic Places (Murtaugh 1976:481), as well as being a National Historic Landmark, and a New Mexico State...

  6. TWO Folsom and the Human Antiquity Controversy in America
    (pp. 22-50)
    DAVID J. MELTZER

    Folsom played a pivotal role in the development of American archaeology. Most everyone knows this. What may be less well known is why this particular site, alone among dozens of localities championed since the midnineteenth century, including several bison kills, finally established that humans were in the Americas by late Pleistocene times (see Meltzer 1991b). What may not be known at all is why, in the decade after the breakthrough at Folsom, the site’s investigators—Jesse Figgins and Harold Cook—were completely excluded from professional discussions of the site and North American Paleoindians.

    As it happens, those issues are linked...

  7. THREE Situating the Site and Setting the Ecological Stage
    (pp. 51-83)
    DAVID J. MELTZER

    The Folsom site is situated in northeastern New Mexico, in the Great Plains physiographic province. It is often assumed that the site is set on the High Plains portion of that province, amid the vast, flat, almost-featureless, dry, windswept grassland that reaches from Texas into Canada. Yet, although many important Folsom-age sites are in just that setting, the type site is not. Instead, and to the surprise of many first-time visitors, it is situated in the midst of an open woodland/parkland of high mesas, volcanic cones, and upland pediment surfaces, in a region dissected by small, relatively narrow streams and...

  8. FOUR Archaeological Research Designs, Methods, and Results
    (pp. 84-111)
    DAVID J. MELTZER

    The investigations conducted at the Folsom site in the 1920s, and again in the 1990s, were very different in their goals, scope, design, and execution. Given the very different questions being asked across the decades separating these investigations, that is not surprising. Not should it come as a surprise that the more limited goals of the original investigations (chapter 1) were matched by a more limited research design or that there was never a published discussion of the strategies guiding that fieldwork, the methods and techniques used, and the nature and potential biases of the data that resulted. Such was...

  9. FIVE Geology, Paleotopography, Stratigraphy, and Geochronology
    (pp. 112-153)
    DAVID J. MELTZER and VANCE T. HOLLIDAY

    Many preserved kill sites are indeed “geological oddities,” as Albanese (1978:61) put it, and Folsom is no exception. To understand why and how this site was preserved where it is, and to use that information to gain insight into the form of the ancient landscape, we need to explore Folsom’s geological context and stratigraphic history. Although important insights into these topics emerged from earlier work here, especially that of Anderson and Haynes in the early 1970s, there were significant gaps in our knowledge of these matters when our fieldwork began, as detailed in chapter 1.

    To fill those gaps and...

  10. SIX Late Glacial Climate and Ecology
    (pp. 154-204)
    DAVID J. MELTZER

    The Folsom area presently experiences a continental, semiarid climate of cold winters and relatively warm summers (chapter 3). Summer rainfall is dominant (fig. 3.9), but there is the potential for heavy winter snowfall. It is an area of significant topographic variability and, therefore, considerable biotic diversity, the vegetation ranging from open oak and locust parkland in the immediate vicinity of the site, to pine and spruce galleries and rolling grassland on the slopes of and atop (respectively) nearby Johnson Mesa (figs. 3.6, 3.8, 3.11). The area today has few plants capable of providing the carbohydrates and essential fats necessary to...

  11. SEVEN The Faunal Assemblage and Bison Bonebed Taphonomy
    (pp. 205-246)
    DAVID J. MELTZER and LAWRENCE C. TODD

    It was the bison bones at Folsom that caught McJunkin’s eye, and until the midsummer of 1926, that was all the Colorado Museum was interested in as well (chapter 2). That changed, of course, when the first projectile point came out of the ground, and this became an archaeological site. Even so, the site continued to be referred to as the Folsom “bone quarry,” testimony to the sheer numbers of bison bones, which constitute by bulk the largest class of material from the site. Much of the early analytical attention was on just what kind of bison these were; questions...

  12. EIGHT Artifacts, Technological Organization, and Mobility
    (pp. 247-294)
    DAVID J. MELTZER

    The great majority of artifacts recovered from the Folsom site are projectile points. Found scattered across a bonebed, a few deeply embedded in bison skeletons, there is little doubt what these points were used for: They were weapons for killing very large game.

    To be sure, these hunters must have had additional artifacts in their toolkit. Other sites of this age are replete with a variety of formal and non-formal tools, such as end and side scrapers, gravers, burins, ultrathin and other bifaces, cores, and preforms (e.g., Jodry 1999a; Root, William, and Emerson 2000; William 2000). But then these other...

  13. NINE Folsom: From Prehistory to History
    (pp. 295-308)
    DAVID J. MELTZER

    At the outset of this book, I detailed a series of questions that guided the recent field, laboratory, and historical investigations at Folsom. I expressed the caveat that not all of them would necessarily be answered or were even answerable. That has proven to be true. Nonetheless, in the course of asking and attempting to answer those questions, much has been learned of the Folsom site, in terms of both what occurred there in Late Glacial times and the events there in the 1920s. Let me return to those questions, as a framework for summarizing the archaeology, geology, history, and...

  14. APPENDIX A: Field Procedures and Protocols
    (pp. 309-315)
    David J. Meltzer
  15. APPENDIX B: The Folsom Diary of Carl Schwachheim
    (pp. 316-324)
  16. APPENDIX C: Historical Archaeology of the Folsom Site
    (pp. 325-330)
    David J. Meltzer and Donald A. Dorward
  17. APPENDIX D: Sediment Mineralogy and Bone Preservation
    (pp. 331-337)
    Todd A. Surovell
  18. APPENDIX E: Defining Folsom: Theme and Variations
    (pp. 338-344)
    David J. Meltzer
  19. REFERENCES CITED
    (pp. 345-366)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 367-374)