Paleoindian Geoarchaeology of the Southern High Plains.Vance T. Holliday. University of Texas Press, Austin, 1997. xx + 297 p., 91 figures, 33 tables, 2 appendices, index. Price: $50.00 (cloth), $24.95 (paper). ISBN 0292731094.
Reviewed by Joe Alan Artz, Office of the State Archaeologist, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242 USA
This book is a scientific study of the landscapes and environments of Paleoindians on the Southern High Plains. It is also a story of seven decades of collaboration between archaeologists and geoscientists in the Llano Estacado, an area in northwest Texas and eastern New Mexico that has produced one of North Americas finest Paleoindian records. Although written by one author to summarize his two decades of personal involvement in geoarchaeological research in the region, a spirit of collaboration pervades the book. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the preface, in which Holliday names over 70 individuals, including scientists, students, and ranchers, who have assisted him in his research.
Chapter 1 introduces each of the three terms that comprise the books title. First, readers learn about the physiography, climate, vegetation, and geology of the Southern High Plains, and in particular the Llano Estacado. The origin and evolution of the term Paleoindian is then reviewed, from its initial informal use in 1940 by Frank Roberts of the Smithsonian Institution to its present day meaning as a dynamic period at the boundary between the Pleistocene and Holocene that witnessed the explosive peopling of the New World. The term "geoarchaeology" is not explicitly defined but its goals and many of its techniques are nicely summarized in a section on field methods. "My field research...," Holliday writes, "integrated the archaeological data base with interpretations from stratigraphy, sedimentology, pedology, geomorphology, and geochronology" (p. 16).
Chapter 2 is a fascinating history of Paleoindian research on the Southern High Plains, beginning with the initial discovery of an association between human artifacts and extinct megafauna at Folsom, New Mexico, in 1926-28. Holliday conveys a fine sense of the personalities and paradigms that over the years have driven investigations in the region, and also of the fortuitous circumstances that have sometimes led to historic discoveries, such as gravel mining outside Clovis, New Mexico, or the building of a manmade lake at Lubbock, Texas. All five chapters of the book, in fact, are informed by an awareness of the contributions of previous researchers. For example, Holliday cites a 1989 publication edited by Jack Hofman as his primary source on Paleoindian culture history but his discussion of the topic makes extensive and equable reference to the work of three generations of researchers including Krieger, Wormington, Knudson, and Wheat.
Chapter 3, comprising about one third the books length, provides information on some twenty PaleoIndian sites that Holliday has investigated. Site-by-site discussions of landscape evolution give balanced consideration to evidence from soils, sediments, landforms, artifacts, and radiocarbon ages. Emphasis is placed on determining, from the geological context of archaeological remains at each site, the topographic and depositional setting at the time of Paleoindian occupation. Stratigraphy and geomorphology are illustrated with cross section drawings and maps, and lithostratigraphic correlations and radiocarbon ages are well documented in tables. The site descriptions are comprehensive but not exhaustive. Brief technical descriptions of major stratigraphic units are presented in an appendix, but detailed soil profile descriptions are lacking. Despite the importance of paleoenvironmental reconstruction to the volume, primary data on pollen, diatoms, gastropods, phytoliths, and other important paleoecological evidence are often not presented. Skeptical readers may feel that Chapter3, while readable, sometimes requires leaps of faith. If so, they can direct their leaps to other publications where details of the pedological and paleoecological research are published, e.g. Hollidays 1995 Quaternary Valley Fills on the Southern High Plains (Geological Society of America, Memoir 186).
Chapter 4 extends the geographic scope of the study to areas south, east, and north of the Southern High Plains (as far north, indeed, as the Wyoming Basin). The chapter documents the range of depositional contexts where Paleoindian sites have been found. Filled gullies and arroyos seem to be the most common context. Sites associated with alluvial fans, terrace surfaces, large valley fills, and playas are also documented. Perhaps not enough emphasis is given to the fact that many of the sites discussed are very deeply buried: Paleoindian components at the Aubrey and Richard Beene sites in eastern Texas were discovered 610 m below the present ground surface. For those of us who rarely find Paleoindian sites, the implications are obvious. We dont systematically search for contexts where such sites are most likely to be found, and we often simply dont dig deep enough.
Chapter 5 summarizes the chronology and paleoenvironments of Clovis, Folsom, and Late Paleoindian on the Southern High Plains. The environment of the Llano Estacado during the Clovis occupation (11,200-10,900 B.P.) was a cool, mesic grassland or savanna, with high energy stream flow in draws, marshes and ponds in uplands, with few or no eolian landforms. During Folsom times (10,900-10,000 B.P.) springs along the margins of the draws dwindled, and streams turned to freshwater marshes and ponds. Upland water tables fluctuated, playa lakes alternated between ponds and marshes, and eolian dunes and sandsheets began to spread over the landscape. Warming and drying continued in Late Paleoindian times (10,000-8,000 B.P.) in the earliest Holocene. Streamflow ceased and freshwater wetlands in the draws gave way to scattered alkaline marshes. Shortgrass prairie dominated the uplands which were subject to episodic drought.
Although known primarily as a geoscientist, Holliday had undergraduate training as an archaeologist. This background is quite apparent in Chapter 5. In a well written and sometimes critical review of archaeological classification practices, Holliday correctly observes that Paleoindian "cultural chronology" is actually an "artifact chronology" built from radiocarbon ages on strata yielding projectile points and extended to undated sites through morphological and technological analysis of the points themselves. In a few places, Holliday uses the term "geocultural" to express this notion of a shared geochronologic framework (p. 176, 197), a neologism I find inappropriate. Without a doubt, for latest Pleistocene and Holocene times in North America, particularly in localities like the Llano Estacado, archaeological chronology and Quaternary geochronology are at least siblings if not conjoined twins, but what in heavens name is a "geoculture?"
After summarizing the cultural chronology, he reviews the landscape settings in which Paleoindian sites have been found, then turns to the problem of time trends in the Paleoindian utilization of the landscape through time. He concludes that, on the Llano Estacado, occupational intensity and settlement diversity reached its peak during the Folsom occupation, then dwindled as Late Paleoindians adapted to the increasingly arid Holocene climate.
Hollidays in-depth consideration of point typology at times seems to digress from his main theme. Ten of the fifth chapters 56 pages, for example, are devoted to the problem of classifying unfluted lanceolate points. By chapters end, however, the reason for the "digresssion" is clear. Accurate dating and culture classification are absolutely essential to evaluating occupational time trends. Hollidays appreciation of this fact and his willingness to grapple with the often confusing details of archaeological typology turns this book into a truly interdisciplinary work, a vigorous blending of archaeological and geoscience approaches.
This book is a positive reflection, not only on the authors career of collaboration with archaeologists, but also on the long tradition of such collaboration in his study region. The books importance to Plains Paleoindian studies comes down to the inseparability of the archaeological record from its stratigraphic context. The sound stratigraphic and geochronologic framework established by Holliday provide an essential foundation for archaeological analyses of Paleoindian culture.