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The Great Basin

The Great Basin: A Natural Prehistory

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    The Great Basin
    Book Description:

    Covering a large swath of the American West, the Great Basin, centered in Nevada and including parts of California, Utah, and Oregon, is named for the unusual fact that none of its rivers or streams flow into the sea. This fascinating illustrated journey through deep time is the definitive environmental and human history of this beautiful and little traveled region, home to Death Valley, the Great Salt Lake, Lake Tahoe, and the Bonneville Salt Flats. Donald K. Grayson synthesizes what we now know about the past 25,000 years in the Great Basin—its climate, lakes, glaciers, plants, animals, and peoples—based on information gleaned from the region’s exquisite natural archives in such repositories as lake cores, packrat middens, tree rings, and archaeological sites. A perfect guide for students, scholars, travelers, and general readers alike, the book weaves together history, archaeology, botany, geology, biogeography, and other disciplines into one compelling panorama across a truly unique American landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94871-6
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Donald K. Grayson
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. PART ONE The Great Basins

    • CHAPTER ONE Discovering a Great Basin
      (pp. 3-10)

      It was July 13, 1890, and the first Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States lay dying in a New York City boardinghouse, his son by his side, his celebrated wife, Jessie, in Los Angeles, a continent away. Seventy-seven years old, John C. Frémont had come to New York from Washington, where he had finally obtained a $6,000 yearly pension for his military service. That sum, Frémont hoped, would secure his family from the poverty that had marked their recent life, but he had not counted on dying so soon, and Congress had made no provision for continuing...

    • CHAPTER TWO Modern Definitions of the Great Basin
      (pp. 11-42)

      If scientists had just stuck with Frémont’s fully appropriate definition, the Great Basin would be a well-defined hydrographic unit, the name applying only to that huge area of the arid West that drains internally. That definition, in fact, remains the common one, though few people working in the Great Basin follow it slavishly.

      When it is so defined (figure 2-1), the Great Basin covers about 200,000 square miles, from the crest of the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades to the western edge of the Uinta Mountains and Colorado Plateau, and from edge to edge of the Columbia and Colorado River...

  6. PART TWO Some Ice Age Background

    • CHAPTER THREE Glaciers, Sea Levels, and the Peopling of the Americas
      (pp. 45-66)

      Archaeology deals with the entire time span of our existence, from our earliest tool-using ancestors in sub-Saharan Africa some 2.5 million years ago, to contemporary peoples from Tanzania to Tucson. Much archaeological research is fairly routine and, while important, causes little heated debate. But there are certain issues, as in all sciences, that become the focal point of loud argumentation and of lasting disagreement.

      The archaeology of the Americas was once marked by many such debates. Did contact across the Pacific Ocean stimulate the development of the high civilizations of South and Middle America? Were the prehistoric pueblos of the...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The End of the North American Pleistocene: Extinct Mammals and Early Peoples
      (pp. 67-84)

      The end of the Pleistocene in North America was a time of remarkable change. Throughout much of this region, plant communities were reorganized as separate species of plants responded in their own individual ways to new climatic conditions. Huge glacial lakes that had formed in the Great Basin desiccated, some apparently with great speed. A substantial set of large and, from our modern perspective, exotic, mammals became extinct. In addition, people spread throughout a landscape that had apparently been occupied by only scattered human groups at best. I explore the late Pleistocene lakes and plants of the Great Basin in...

  7. PART THREE The Late Ice Age Great Basin

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Late Pleistocene Physical Environment: Lakes and Glaciers
      (pp. 87-134)

      The fastest anyone has ever officially gone on land is 763.035 miles per hour, a speed hit by Royal Air Force fighter pilot Andy Green in the jet-powered Thrust SSC II on October 15, 1997, on northwestern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. That accomplishment broke the record that he had set some three weeks earlier, 714.144 MPH, also on the Black Rock Desert. The latter speed broke the record of 633.468 MPH set by Richard Noble in the Thrust II, on October 4, 1983, again on the Black Rock, which in turn broke the record set by Gary Gabelich on October...

    • CHAPTER SIX Late Pleistocene Vegetation of the Great Basin
      (pp. 135-172)

      William Lewis Manly and his traveling companions spent the Christmas of 1849 in Death Valley. Manly’s companions did not escape until mid-February, and then only because Manly and his friend John Rogers walked out, returning with supplies, directions, and hope. Not until March 7 did the whole group reach Rancho San Francisco, near Los Angeles, and full safety. On their way out, they gave Death Valley its name, even though only one of their immediate group had actually died there: “We took off our hats, and then overlooking the scene of so much trial, suffering and death spoke the thought...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Late Pleistocene Vertebrates of the Great Basin
      (pp. 173-214)

      As discussed in chapter 4, the extinction of an amazingly diverse variety of North American mammals toward the end of the Pleistocene has provided paleontology, and archaeology, with one of its most hotly debated mysteries. The Great Basin, however, has been largely peripheral to this debate. This is not because the Great Basin is lacking in late Pleistocene vertebrate faunas. Many fossil-bearing sites of this age have been reported from the region, and hundreds of other Great Basin localities have provided isolated bones and teeth of extinct Pleistocene mammals.

      To some extent, the Great Basin’s low profile in the extinction...

  8. PART FOUR The Last 10,000 Years

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Great Basin during the Holocene
      (pp. 217-286)

      In 1975, geologist Dave Hopkins announced the decision by the Holocene Commission of the International Quaternary Association to place the Pleistocene-Holocene Boundary at 10,000 years ago. The 10,000-year figure, he said, was chosen “simply because that’s a nice round number.” And, he added, “no one agreed with me, nor with anyone else” (Hopkins 1975: 10). The date was accepted, and is, by definition, the temporal boundary that separates the Pleistocene from the Holocene.

      Even though the date chosen for the boundary is arbitrary, all that we have learned since shows that it was appropriate. Most generally, the interval between 11,000...

  9. PART FIVE Great Basin Archaeology

    • CHAPTER NINE The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Great Basin
      (pp. 289-338)

      The Clovis archaeological phenomenon provides the earliest widespread evidence we have for people in North America (chapter 4). Dating to between 11,200 and 10,800 years ago, Clovis is best known from the Plains and Southwest and is marked by very distinctive lanceolate, concave-based fluted projectile points (figure 4-3). These distinctive stone points are also famous for having frequently been found associated with the remains of extinct Pleistocene mammoths.

      Claims of pre-Clovis sites have been made for most parts of North America. The Great Basin is no exception. Not only does this region contain the Calico site and Fort Rock Cave,...

  10. PART SIX Conclusions

    • CHAPTER TEN The Great Basin Today and Tomorrow
      (pp. 341-346)

      It has become routine to end regional natural histories of the Americas with discussions of all the disastrous things that have happened since the arrival of Europeans, and of the dire consequences that will emerge if we do not change our ways. The warnings are warranted. The nature of the human world is driven, for good and bad, by population increase. Technological advances and environmental degradation follow as a result.

      The technological advances follow in part from the greater number of innovators found in larger populations. They also follow from the increasing specialization that is made possible by greater numbers...

  11. APPENDIX 1: Relationship between Radiocarbon and Calendar Years for the Past 25,000 Radiocarbon Years
    (pp. 347-350)
  12. APPENDIX 2: Concordance of Common and Scientific Plant Names
    (pp. 351-354)
    (pp. 355-408)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 409-418)