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Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology of the Colorado High Country

Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology of the Colorado High Country

Mark Stiger
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology of the Colorado High Country
    Book Description:

    Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology of the Colorado High Country offers data on 8,000 years of cultural change across a wide area of western Colorado and updates archaeological methodology in the mountain West. Synthesizing research from several important, previously neglected sites, the book anchors its findings in a massive body of data that Mark Stiger gathered over eight years at Tenderfoot - a large lithic-scatter site once categorized as insignificant. Advances in spatial analysis, theoretical approaches, and excavation methods have allowed lithic-scatter sites, once considered less revealing than intact structures and similar sites, to yield startlingly rich cultural evidence. Presenting artifactual data that reflects changes in houses, game drives, fire pits, stone tools, and debitage, Stiger explains the cultural sequence in the Upper Gunnison Basin and its connections to changes across the West.  He relates environmental and cultural changes, relying on paleoenvironmental evidence, changes in floral and faunal usage patterns, and data recovered in multi-year, repetitive surface collections.  An overview and critique of past research in the region complements discussion of the advantages of horizontally extensive block excavations and other contemporary ways of excavating and analyzing surface sites. Stiger's findings hold promise for future research, as high-altitude surface sites are common, under-researched, and relatively well-preserved. The advances in archaeological method and theory that enabled Stiger's outstanding results in the Upper Gunnison Basin will allow many other Western sites to yield fascinating evidence.

    eISBN: 978-0-87081-699-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
    Lewis R. Binford

    As a long-time advocate of the abandonment of interpretative conventions in favor of research and scholarship aimed at improving our inferential methods, I am very pleased to have been asked to write the foreword for Mark Stiger’s pioneering book. Mark has repeatedly suggested that the use of interpretative conventions insures that learning ceases. The use of interpretative conventions or models constructed for the data to interpret the past from archaeological remains insures that what is already thought to be known is simply translated in a new and previously unstudied area. Guided by this viewpoint, Mark has conducted intensive field research...

  6. Preface
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. xxix-xxxii)

    Archaeologists working in the Colorado mountains tend to be an odd lot. Some are here by choice; some have been forced here by circumstances beyond their control. Some see the mountains as a land of opportunity drawing in prehistoric pioneers. Others see the mountains as a periphery of the more important ancient activities that occurred in the Southwest, the Plains, the Great Basin, or elsewhere. These attitudes are often reflected in their archaeological interpretation and research.

    The vast majority of archaeological work done in the area is traditional. This research relies on the processes of migration, diffusion, and independent invention...

  9. 1 The Archaeology of Colorado’s High Country
    (pp. 1-12)

    This section describes several of the larger, better-reported archaeological projects in Colorado’s high country (Figure 1.1). This description will give the reader a sense of which kinds of sites archaeologists have thought to be most useful for research. I also briefly describe the research approaches and conclusions drawn by the investigators.

    I then describe work done in the Upper Gunnison Basin. Included are several smaller projects. Across the high country, innumerable small CRM (Cultural Resources Management) projects have been conducted; I describe only those done in the Upper Gunnison Basin.

    Jennings’s 1968 Summary

    Jennings (1968) summarizes what was known about...

  10. 2 Current Perspectives in Colorado High-Country Archaeology
    (pp. 13-32)

    This section surveys current approaches and perspectives in Colorado mountain archaeology, including the research domains considered important by Guthrie et al. (1984) and the Mountain tradition as proposed by Black (1991). The concept of social relationships is explored.

    Formation processes consist of both the cultural practices of ancient peoples and the natural environmental conditions that affect what remains of old occupations. For example, a group of prehistoric people may fragment bones into tiny pieces when making bone juice, or the soils at a site may be naturally acidic—these cultural and natural formation processes may destroy bone so that the...

  11. 3 The Upper Gunnison Basin
    (pp. 33-46)

    It is no exaggeration to state that the Upper Gunnison Basin is, in many aspects, unique. Its geological formations are highly varied, and some are rare, such as the double ring dike at Hartman’s Rocks. The area is marked with features formed by volcanic activity of many types, some that occurred 25 million years ago, and some that covered gigantic areas. The Basin is surrounded by geological barriers, including the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and high-elevation mountain ranges. Perhaps because of the geological barriers, floral and faunal distributions are unusual compared to those of surrounding areas.

    The area has...

  12. 4 Prehistoric Use of Fauna in the Upper Gunnison Basin
    (pp. 47-58)

    The faunal remains recovered from dated prehistoric contexts in the Upper Gunnison Basin are reported in Appendix D. We have reported the larger animals by element; we have condensed the medium-sized animals into species only; we have collapsed the small animals into gross categories of rodent, bird, fish, and frog. We have not included those animals believed to be burrow deaths or intrusive. We have separated the faunal assemblages by dated component within each site. We have also included the undated faunal assemblages at Site 5GN204/5GN205, which may be part of a trash dump associated with a residential occupation.


  13. 5 Floral Exploitation in the Upper Gunnison Basin
    (pp. 59-62)

    The variety of taxa represented in the archaeological record of the Basin, as shown in Appendix E, is not as broad as what might be recovered from an Anasazi site, possibly due to either poorer preservation of these materials on early sites or to relatively little use of plant species by early people. As charred plant material is fragile and tends to break apart with time, and considering the ancient age of the majority of specimens, there is a remarkable array of plant remains from the Paleo-Archaic period.

    As noted in the section on laboratory methods (Chapter 3), samples from...

  14. 6 Interpretation of Artifacts
    (pp. 63-100)

    Some recent approaches to lithic analysis have shifted from traditional content descriptions to a more complex organizational perspective. Central to the latter way of viewing assemblages is examination of the role or roles that artifacts played relative to behavioral systems and relative to each other within these systems.

    One such organizational perspective that was stimulated by ethnographic observation is the categorization of various types of artifacts as personal gear, site furniture, and situational gear (Binford 1979). Personal gear is that which an individual possesses respective of expected or potential conditions that the individual will encounter. Site furniture is also anticipatory...

  15. 7 Interpretation of Features
    (pp. 101-116)

    We have discovered a variety of firepits in the Upper Gunnison Basin. Rock-lined firepits, unlined firepits, and fire-cracked-rock-filled firepits are found with wide ranges of diameters and depths. This morphological diversity is temporally patterned, with some firepit types restricted to time periods. Also, we have found that some debitage, stone tool, and bone spatial distributions are patterned around certain firepit types. I suspect that the differences in firepit construction reflect conscious efforts to create differing burning conditions. We have approached the variability in firepit construction with two methods of study.

    First, we have searched the ethnographic record to see how...

  16. 8 About Surface Sites
    (pp. 117-128)

    Surface materials are important because archaeologists make many research judgements based on surface information. Surface indications guide decisions about which sites to excavate—which site is likely to yield the most significant subsurface material and which site does not offer significant research potential—and about where to dig on a particular site. Comparisons of surface materials might also be used to distinguish among different types of sites.

    However, surface collections may be influenced by natural selective processes that cause certain kinds of artifacts to be buried quickly or driven to the surface frequently. Understanding these influences is necessary if accurate...

  17. 9 Site Comparisons
    (pp. 129-154)

    Intersite comparisons suffer from the use of incongruent methods among sites. For instance, some investigators used ¼-in mesh for screening removed soil; at Tenderfoot we used 1/8-in mesh across the entire excavation block. Obviously, the recovery rate of small flakes and bones is higher when the finer mesh is used, and small pieces become very important in understanding the spatial structure of a multicomponent site.

    Some investigators take flotation and fauna samples when they encounter “important”-looking material during excavations. Others take the entire contents of features for flotation processing. Still others don’t take flotation or radiocarbon samples from hearths because...

  18. 10 Summary and Conclusions
    (pp. 155-174)

    Sometimes it seems that the most controversial questions (or answers) in archaeology are those that address a prehistoric population’s origin and demise. For instance, for many years we have asked, Were the Paleoindians the first people in the New World, or were there some “pre-Clovis” predecessors? Did the Paleoindians walk across the Bering Land Bridge, or did they evolve from some earlier migrants? Did migrants perhaps meet established populations during their passage? What became of the Paleoindians: did they change into the Archaic people? Did the Archaic people become the Formative? What became of the prehistoric farmers of this or...

  19. Appendix A: Tenderfoot Feature Descriptions
    (pp. 175-214)
  20. Appendix B: Lithic Sources in the Upper Gunnison Basin
    (pp. 215-222)
  21. Appendix C: Identified Sources of Archaeological Obsidian Found in Colorado
    (pp. 223-228)
  22. Appendix D: Faunal Remains Found in the Upper Gunnison Basin, by Provenience
    (pp. 229-234)
  23. Appendix E: Floral Remains Found in the Upper Gunnison Basin, by Provenience
    (pp. 235-240)
  24. Appendix F: Burial Assemblages from Archaic and Basketmaker II Contexts
    (pp. 241-244)
  25. Appendix G: Hafted Stone Tools in the Ethnographic and Archaeological Records
    (pp. 245-250)
  26. Appendix H: Tenderfoot Tool Illustrations
    (pp. 251-270)
  27. Appendix I: Ethnographic Record of Fuel and Firepit Use
    (pp. 271-276)
  28. Appendix J: Experimental Firepit Construction
    (pp. 277-280)
  29. Appendix K: Descriptions of Features at Abiquiu and Casa de Nada
    (pp. 281-288)
  30. References Cited
    (pp. 289-310)
  31. Index
    (pp. 311-318)