[NPS Arrowhead] U.S. Dept. of Interior National Park Service Archeology Program
Quick Menu Features
* Sitemap * Home
  Back to The Earliest Americans theme study    
 

 

SOUTHEAST REGIONAL CONTEXT

Introduction

The Southeastern United States is a critical area for understanding early human occupation in the New World. Diagnostic Late Pleistocene era artifacts have been found in large numbers and on a wide range of site types, indicating the region was intensively occupied. The numbers of Paleoindian projectile points found in the Southeast are so high, and their morphological variation so great, in fact, that the region may have been among the earliest settled, and was unquestionably a center of technological and social innovation and differentiation throughout the period. Clear evidence for occupational continuity through time has been found in several areas, giving the region one of the best documented records in the New World of the changes that occurred during the transition from fluted to non-fluted industries. Major concentrations of Paleoindian sites and artifacts occur along the major drainages of the Midsouth and near quarry areas on the Gulf and Atlantic slopes, while other areas such as portions of the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain have produced far fewer sites and artifacts, and hence appear to have been less intensively occupied or exploited throughout the period. Settlement and subsistence systems in the region, while the subject of innovative analysis, description and modeling, however, are still not well understood. We do not know whether Paleoindian populations were highly specialized hunters who regularly targeted megafauna, perhaps contributing to their extinction, or more generalized foragers who made use of a wide range of resources, or (more probably, as need dictated) both. Likewise, while sites and assemblages are widespread after 13,500 years ago, and evidence suggesting even older occupations has been found at several sites, we still do not know when people entered the region.

How archaeological evidence about the earliest inhabitants of the Southeast is recognized, analyzed, and managed in the exploration and evaluation of these kinds of questions is a goal of this regional context. The National Historic Landmark (NHL) and National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) status of southeastern archaeological sites depends on their past contribution to the body of scientific inquiry and on their potential for answering current research questions. As our database about southeastern Paleoindian archaeology has expanded, so too have efforts to manage and organize the information. Historic contexts encompassing the Paleoindian archaeological record have been produced in a number of southeastern states, including Arkansas (Davis 1982), Florida (Dunbar n.d.), Georgia (Anderson et al.1990), Kentucky (Tankersley 1990a), Louisiana (Smith et al. 1983), Mississippi (McGahey n.d.), South Carolina (Anderson and Sassaman 1992; Anderson et al., eds., 1992), Tennessee (Broster 1987), and Virginia (Wittkofski and Reinhart, eds., 1989), and also for the entire region (Anderson et al., eds., 1992; Barnes n.d.). These studies range from detailed, monograph-length presentations of primary data, research approaches, and management strategies in Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina, to more limited position papers or outlines in the remaining states. All of these documents, however, are fundamental guides to research design and resource management in their respective states. This regional context is designed to synthesize, and complement, the results of this earlier work.

Chronological Considerations for the Southeast

In this section, the Paleoindian archaeological record in the Southeast is discussed in general terms, by the known or inferred age of the assemblages in question, without resorting to specific stages or subperiods. Initial Paleoindian occupation of the region is currently unknown, but is assumed to have been upwards of 13,450 B.P. (i.e., >11,500 rcbp). The first widespread evidence for human occupation is associated with Clovis and related fluted point assemblages, which are inferred to occur between roughly 13,450-12,900 B.P. (i.e., ca. 11,500-10,800 rcbp). Terminal Paleoindian occupations, closely associated with the Younger Dryas climate interval, the ending of which marked the onset of the Holocene, date from roughly 12,900-11,450 B.P. (ca.10,800-10,000 rcbp). These intervals have elsewhere been formalized into a new chronology for the period, consisting of Early, Middle, and Late Paleoindian subperiods (Anderson 2001, n.d.).

These temporal ranges are roughly comparable to chronological/stage formulations currently in use in the Southeast, such as the Early (11,500-10,750 rcbp) and Late (10,750-10,000 rcbp) Paleoindian framework advanced by Morse, Anderson, and Goodyear (1996) or the Early (11,500-10,900 rcbp), Middle (10,900-10,500 rcbp), and Late (10,500-10,000 rcbp) Paleoindian subperiods offered by Anderson (1990a). The important difference is the addition of an initial or Early Paleoindian subperiod to cover presumed pre-Clovis occupations. Goodyear (1999a:435-441) was the first to publicly call for the addition of a pre-Clovis stage in the Southeast, whose need was justified by accumulating evidence for occupations dating to this time. It is a testimony to the rate at which our thoughts about early occupations are changing that, prior to the widespread acceptance of Monte Verde's antiquity in the mid-1990s, occupations predating 13,450 B.P. in the region, that is, pre-Clovis in age, were not considered plausible enough to warrant a stage or subperiod designation in local sequences (e.g., see Anderson and Sassaman, eds., 1996). Table 3 offers a combined radiocarbon/calendrical timescale for southeastern Paleoindian assemblages, while Table 4 provides a listing of radiocarbon dates reported from Paleoindian sites in the region. Table 4 must be viewed as a partial listing, because many dates are either not reported, or are incompletely reported. Examples of temporally diagnostic Paleoindian projectile point types from the Southeast are illustrated in Figure 2.

Table 3. A Combined Radiocarbon/Calendrical Timescale for Southeastern Paleoindian Assemblages. (calibrated dates derived from Stuiver et al. 1998)

[Long description]
Calendar BP Radiocarbon rcbp Stage Culture Complex Climatic Event
8986; 8874; 8825; 8819 8,000
8,000-9,000 Bifurcate
10,189 9,000 Early Archaic Boreal
10,736; 10,708; 10,702 9,500 Corner Notched
11,254; 11,253; 11,234; 11,545; 11,512 9,900
11,400; 11,391; 11,340; 11,687; 11,677 10,000
11, 642 10,100 Younger Dryas ends / Preboreal
11,930; 11,804; 11,768 10,200 Late Paleoindian Early Side Notched
12,622; 12, 472; 12,390 10,500 Dalton
10,500-10,800 Quad / Beaver Lake
12,899 10,800
10,800-10,900 Cumberland / Folsom
12,944 10,900 Younger Dryas begins
13,132 11,100 Middle Paleoindian Inter-Allerød Cold Period ends
13,155 11,200 Clovis widespread
13,455 11,500
11,500-11,750 Clovis beginnings?
13,811 11,750 Allerød
14,043; 13,923; 13,858 11,950 Older Dryas ends
14,065 12,000 Little Salt Spring / Page-Ladson
12,000-12,100 Early Paleoindian
14,100 12,100 Older Dryas begins
12,100-12,500 Monte Verde
15,084; 14,731; 14,382 12,500
15,231; 14,606; 14,449 12,600 Bølling begins
12,600-16,000 Meadowcroft (?)
19,091 16,000 Cactus Hill (?)
21,392 18,000 Initial Colonization (?) Glacial maximum

The Initial Human Occupation of the Southeast
(> ca. 13,450 B.P., >11,500 rcbp)

The nature of initial human settlement in the Southeast is largely an enigma at present. Assemblages that appear to predate 13,450 B.P. have been found at a number of locations, such as Cactus Hill (44SX202), Little Salt Spring (8So18), Saltville (44SM37), Page-Ladson (8Je591), and Topper (38AL23). Unfortunately, the dating of some of these sites, and in some cases the artifacts themselves, is somewhat equivocal at present (although, as we shall see below, recent evidence from three of them, Cactus Hill, Topper, and Saltville, increasingly supports an early dating). While there are thus tantalizing hints of early human occupation in the region, well dated sites with extensive artifact assemblages have yet to be found [with the possible exception of Cactus Hill, where work is ongoing, and where increasing evidence suggests a very early occupation (McAvoy et al. 2000)]. No diagnostic artifacts are currently known that unambiguously identify pre-11,500 rcbp (11,450 B.P.) assemblages in the Southeast and, indeed, few sites have been excavated that are widely accepted as dating to this period. Our sample of sites of this time period is thus in no way representative or complete, even to major type.

That human colonization and settlement of the Southeast occurred prior to 11,500 rcbp, however, must be considered possible, given the general acceptance of the dating of the Monte Verde site in Chile at ca. 12,000 to 12,500 rcbp (ca. 14,000 to 14,750 B.P.) (Bonnichsen and Turnmire 1999; Dillehay 1989, 1997; Meltzer et al. 1997). If people could have reached the southern cone of South America by some time prior to 12,000 rcbp, they probably could just as easily have reached the southeastern United States by this time or soon thereafter. Whether they were successful and survived, or died out (i.e., representing "failed migrations"), is currently unknown. The spotty nature of the archaeological record from this era, over both time and space, suggests the latter, or else extremely small populations, possibly occupying portions of the region now largely inaccessible, such as on the continental shelf.

When the first people arrived in the Southeast remains unknown, although a number of sites have yielded evidence suggesting initial occupation might have begun up to several thousand years prior to 11,500 rcbp (13,450 B.P.). About this time or shortly thereafter, however, Clovis assemblages occur widely across the region. Whether fluted point assemblages were present prior to this is currently unknown, although some data from the Southeast hints at such a possibility. Traditionally, sites occurring prior to the widespread appearance of fluted points are called "pre-Clovis," a term that can continue to be used quite effectively to describe possible pre-11,500 rcbp occupations in the Southeast, at least until specific assemblages or artifact categories can be recognized and named. While diagnostics remain elusive, there are indications at sites like Cactus Hill in Virginia and Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania that large and small blades, and possibly triangular and lanceolate point forms, may come to be recognized as diagnostic indicators of extremely early, pre-Clovis occupations (Adovasio et al. 1999:427-428; McAvoy and McAvoy 1997).

In light of the paradigm shift represented by the widespread acceptance of the antiquity of the Monte Verde site, a reevaluation of early assemblages should be made in the Southeast. Thus, while controversy has surrounded the dating of the Meadowcroft rock shelter deposits from southwestern Pennsylvania (e.g., Haynes 1992:367, but see Goldberg and Arpin 1999:340 and Adovasio et al. 1999, who appear to have effectively refuted arguments against the dating), more attention should be paid to the stratigraphic relationships evidenced at the site, and the viability of the Miller Lanceolate as a possible pre-Clovis point type (Adovasio et al. 1978, 1990, 1999; this is particularly important in light of the recent discovery of similarly unfluted "Early Triangular" points and a blade industry in apparent pre-Clovis context at Cactus Hill inVirginia). Equally important, increased effort should be made to look for early assemblages in stratigraphic contexts that are traditionally ignored in the Southeast, such as below late Pleistocene/early Holocene alluvium or colluvium (Goodyear 1999a, n.d.). Direct physical examination of individual specimens should also help resolve questions of their antiquity. Thus, the Natchez pelvis, which was found with Late Pleistocene megafaunal remains and initially thought on the basis of fluorine testing to have great antiquity, was recently AMS dated to 558080 rcbp (AA-4051) (Cotter 1991; M. Smith 1993:63). A goal of all such work should be the development of Criteria for the relatively easy recognition of early, pre-Clovis age Paleoindian assemblages in the Southeast.

Widespread Settlement: Clovis and Related Assemblages in the Southeast
(ca. 13,450-12,900 B.P., 11,500-10,800 rcbp)

The first unequivocal evidence for widespread human occupation in the Southeast dates to shortly after 11,500 rcbp (13,450 B.P.), when assemblages characterized by fluted points appear widely over the region. While appreciable variation in size and shape is evident on local fluted forms, many of these points are indistinguishable from Clovis fluted points found on the Plains and in the Southwest, and many are called by that name. Other names sometimes used to describe Clovis-like points in the Southeast include Ross County, Eastern Clovis and Gainey (MacDonald 1983; Mason 1962; Perino 1985, 1991; Prufer and Baby 1963:15; Shott 1986a; Simons et al. 1984). Clovis points have long been assumed to be the markers of the first populations to enter, explore, and settle into the region. Since it now appears likely that at least some people were in the region prior to the widespread occurrence of Clovis technology, what may instead be represented is the radiation of a superior technological tradition, or the first successful (i.e., reproductively viable) extended settlement.

The widespread appearance of Clovis and related point forms is assumed to reflect the rapid growth and expansion of human populations within the region, with permanent settlement occurring in many areas. These peoples were highly mobile, ranging over large areas, and targeting a wide range of biota, including megafauna. There appears little doubt some parts of the region were highly favored, particularly the terrain along the major rivers of the Midsouth and Midwest, including the Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee, and portions of Florida and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. These settings are assumed to have been staging areas, locations rich in game, plant foods, and other resources of value to these early populations, where permanent settlements were established and distinctive subregional cultural traditions emerged (Anderson 1990, 1996). These resource-rich settings, with a well established human presence, would have been ideal places from which to explore and settle the larger region.

Settlement in the Southeast by peoples using Clovis and related assemblages also appears to have been shaped, to some extent, by the occurrence of high quality chert and other knappable stone types on the landscape, raw materials these populations preferred for their toolkits, which typically contained a wide range of well made, highly specialized forms, such as scrapers, gravers, and perforators (Gardner1977, 1983, 1989; Goodyear 1979).

Few radiocarbon dates exist for Clovis and related assemblages in the Southeast (Table 4). At present, fluted Clovis and Clovis-like points are the only artifact category that can be used to unambiguously document sites created by these peoples. Another possible diagnostic artifact category, prismatic blades and blade cores (e.g., Collins 1999; Green 1963), are actually of somewhat doubtful utility. Blades and blade cores have been observed in some numbers at several presumed Clovis age sites in the Southeast, such as Adams, Carson-Conn-Short, and Wells Creek Crater, and possibly at the Pine Tree and Quad sites in Alabama and the LeCroy and Nuckolls sites in Tennessee (Broster and Norton 1996:290-293; Broster et al. 1994, 1996; Dragoo 1973; Nami et al. 1996; Sanders 1990:67). The presence of blade industries at Cactus Hill in possible pre-Clovis context (McAvoy and McAvoy 1997:111, 157) indicates that this technology may occur very early in the Southeast, and may eventually prove useful in seriating early from later Paleoindian assemblages. Given the presence of unequivocal blade technology in some extremely late Paleoindian contexts, such as at Dust Cave in Alabama (Meeks 1994), however, care must be taken to avoid equating blade industries with Clovis or pre-Clovis Paleoindian occupations. Other possible diagnostics, such as worked bone or ivory from extinct species, likewise suggest only use of these materials when these animals were still present in the region (i.e., >10,800rcbp; 12,900 B.P.), and even then care must be taken to differentiate fresh or green material from older scavenged bone and ivory used by later peoples (Dunbar and Webb 1996).

Terminal Paleoindian Occupations in the Southeast
(ca. 12,900-11,450 B.P., 10,800-10,000 rcbp)

The interval from 10,800 to 10,000 rcbp is a time of tremendous cultural and climatic change in the Southeast, roughly corresponding to the Younger Dryas climate interval, the completion of the late Pleistocene faunal extinctions, and the abandonment of Clovis fluting technology, in all probability closely related phenomena (Anderson 2001; Fiedel 1999; Taylor et al. 1996). A wide range of projectile point forms appeared and disappeared in various parts of the region, something that was quite puzzling prior to the recognition of the vast amount of time represented by this interval. Projectile point forms exhibit appreciable stylistic variability and in some cases fairly restricted spatial distributions, something interpreted as evidence for increasing regionalization or isolation of groups as population levels rose and group mobility decreased. Regional and subregional cultural traditions became widely established, population levels grew dramatically, and technological organization changed to accommodate Holocene climate and biota (Anderson 1990a, 1995a, 1996, 2001; Ellis et al. 1998; Morse et al. 1996). Well made stone tools characterized by a variety of specialized tool forms continued to occur, although these were increasingly made on locally available and often lower quality raw materials than before. The decline in the use of high quality raw materials is thought due, in part, to a decrease in group mobility, specifically the areas over which these groups moved. A decrease in mobility would have meant these groups had less opportunity to visit stone sources at great distances, and would have also had less need for high quality materials, since they would rarely be ranging far from sources, assuming stone was available locally. Other factors prompting a switch to lower quality raw materials could have included the exhaustion of readily available high quality chert at source areas, the alluvial/colluvial covering of outcrops due to erosion, possibly resulting from changes in climate and biota, and the inundation of source areas due to rising sea levels, both on the now-submerged continental shelf and in the interior due to changes in stream gradients (Tesar 1994:88, 1996:38; see also Goodyear 1999a).

From ca. 10,800 to 10,500 rcbp/12,900-12,500 B.P., identifiable southeastern projectile point forms include fluted, basally thinned, and unfluted forms, including some or all of the following types: Beaver Lake, Clovis Variant, Cumberland, Dalton, Quad, Suwannee, and Simpson, as well as a number of Plains Paleoindian forms in the western part of the region such as Folsom, Plainview, Midland, and Angostura (Figure 2). Sometime around or after ca. 10,500 rcbp/12,500 B.P., however, Dalton points become common over much of the Southeast, with a number of distinct named subtypes or variants occurring in specific areas, such as Colbert, Greenbrier, Hardaway, and Nucholls, as well as related forms such as San Patrice vars. Hope and St. Johns. Only in Florida are Dalton points rare, although some researchers believe that the Suwannee point is a local equivalent. Dalton points may also be rare in parts of the Middle Atlantic region (Fiedel, personal communication); plotting the regional distribution of the form would appear to be potentially quite rewarding. By ca. 10,200 rcbp/11,850 B.P., side notched point forms appear, as documented by dates at both the Dust Cave and Page-Ladson sites, and by 10,000 rcbp/11,450 B.P. or soon thereafter this point form is found in large numbers in many parts of the region.

With the passing of megafauna, human populations would have had no choice but to target smaller game animals, a practice that might have led to a more diversified subsistence economy (if one or a few big game species were the prey of choice previously), although there can be little doubt that human populations have always made opportunistic use of a wide range of species when favored resources were not available. A fundamental reorganization in culture and technological organization, in fact, characterizes the Clovis to post-Clovis transition, something reflected in the appearance of notched and resharpened points, greater use of local lithic raw materials, and a marked increase in the number of sites scattered widely over the landscape, including in rockshelters (Anderson 1990a, 1996; Dunbar and Webb1996:352; Walthall 1998). These changes are thought to reflect increasing population levels and decreasing group ranges, and a change in subsistence from the exploitation of Late Pleistocene to essentially modern floral and faunal communities. In particular, the change in point forms from lanceolate to serrated and notched types is thought to reflect a change from the occasional procurement of very large animals, such as mastodon, to a need to kill and process large numbers of much smaller and more dispersed game animals, such as deer.

Few absolute dates exist for Paleoindian point forms in the Southeast, particularly for the interval prior to ca. 10,500 rcbp/12,500 B.P. (Table 4). Our ideas on the dating of many point forms, accordingly, are tentative, and rely on stratigraphic evidence and on comparisons with morphologically similar forms securely dated in other regions. Thus, the Cumberland type, which is characterized by fine marginal pressure flaking and flutes running the length of the blade in many cases, is thought to be an Eastern Woodlands equivalent of Folsom technology, and hence occur about the same general time as that form occurs in the west, where it has been well dated to between ca.11,000 to 10,300 rcbp/13,000 to 12,200 B.P. (Fiedel 1999; Tankersley 1990a:78). Some eastern Folsom points (Munson 1990) also resemble Barnes points, and all three types may be related. Daltons, in contrast, appear to span a much longer range, with some points exhibiting true fluting and hence perhaps occurring fairly early, while other Dalton points have pronounced shoulders, beveling, and notches, attributes ubiquitous on succeeding Early Archaic forms, and are hence thought to be fairly late (Ellis et al. 1998:159). Likewise, fluted points with deeply indented bases have been dated to ca. 10,600 rcbp/12,725 B.P. at Debert and other sites in the Northeast (Levine 1990; see also Bonnichsen and Will 1999), and a comparable age for similar fluted point forms may be indicated in the Southeast. Given the great variety of point forms observed during this interval, and the restricted geographic distribution many of them have, there can be little doubt that many distinctive forms were contemporaneous during the last part of the Paleoindian era.

Initial Holocene Early Archaic Assemblages in the Southeast
(ca. 11,450-8900 B.P., 10,000-8,000 rcbp)

Dense populations were present across much of the Southeast during the Early Archaic period, as evidenced by large numbers of sites and artifacts, which occur widely over the landscape. Band level groups exploiting modern biota are assumed to have been present, making use of most if not all parts of the landscape, continuing the pattern of land use that began with Dalton (Gillam 1996, 1999; Morse 1973, 1977, 1997b; O'Steen 1983, 1996; O'Steen et al. 1986; Walthall 1998). The highly curated Paleoindian toolkit continued in use, although it was gradually replaced by more expedient tool forms in many areas by the end of the period. Group ranges were much diminished, to within single drainages if not portions of drainages. Lower quality raw materials were increasingly utilized in stone tool manufacture. A number of distinct subregional cultural traditions are present characterized by localized point forms, again like the pattern seen earlier, Dalton and related assemblages.

Early Archaic components in the Southeast are recognized by the occurrence of successive side- and corner-notched and bifurcate-based points (e.g., Bense 1994; Chapman 1985; Coe 1964). Some point forms that begin in the Paleoindian period, such as Dalton and side-notched types, and some western Plano forms, appear to extend into the Early Archaic period. Dalton points are thought to extend no later than about 9900 rcbp/11,250 B.P., although several later dates have been reported running as late as ca. 9000 rcbp/10,200 B.P. (c.f., Goodyear 1982; Walthall 1998). It is unlikely that Dalton continued much later than 10,000 rcbp, however, given the fairly appreciable numbers of radiocarbon dates that have accumulated for side and corner notched points beginning at ca. 10,200 rcbp/11,850 B.P. and particularly after 10,000 rcbp/11,450 B.P. (e.g., Chapman 1985; Driskell 1994, 1996; Dunbar et al. 1988), and the absence of evidence for a cooccurrence of Dalton with these notched forms. Side-notched points themselves appear to continue no later in time than ca. 9500 to 9000 rcbp/10,700 to 10,200 B.P., after which corner notched types such as the Palmer and Kirk types, and Hardin Stemmed points occur. These are in turn followed by a series of bifurcate forms, including the MacCorkle, St. Albans, LeCroy, and Kanawha types, dating from ca. 8900 to 7800 rcbp/10,025 to 8600 B.P. (Chapman 1985).

Geography and Environmental Conditions in the Southeast

The southeastern United States as defined in this study encompasses the modern political units of Alabama, Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. This region, while demarcated by modern political and resource management considerations, closely corresponds to various definitions of a southeastern Native American culture area advanced by anthropologists over the past century. That is, the area contains a number of related societies whose cultural similarities are believed due, in part, to fundamental characteristics of environment and geography, and to a shared history. The Southeast retains such an identity to this day, although precise definitions of what constitutes its boundaries vary somewhat from person to person (see Smith 1986 for a map showing various scholarly definitions of the Native American southeastern cultural area, none of which, however, vary appreciably from one another).

The Southeast roughly corresponds to the lands south and east of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River, and from Chesapeake Bay south. It includes two major physiographic zones, the low lying and minimally dissected coastal plains, and the higher and more variegated interior hills, mountains, and plateaus (see also Bense 1994:17). These areas are, of course, subdivided into a number of smaller regions (Fenneman 1938; Hunt 1974) (Figure 3). Thus, the coastal plain includes the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains, with the Mississippi Alluvial Valley sometimes set off within the latter. The interior encompasses the Piedmont, Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valley, Appalachian Plateau, and Interior Low Plateau regions. Generally Southeastern river drainages tend to flow to the south and southeast in the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plains and Piedmont, respectively, and to the west and north in the Interior and Appalachian Plateaus. The orientation of these drainages has profoundly shaped movement and interaction throughout prehistory, as well as in the historic period (Anderson 1994; Tanner 1989). The loci of initial human colonization in the Southeast, and the directions these first peoples moved over the landscape, were profoundly influenced by the alignment of major drainages (Anderson and Gillam 2000); early peoples are assumed to have walked the margins or used watercraft directly on these waterways (Anderson 1990a, 1995a; Engelbrecht and Seyfort 1994; Faught 1996; Jodry 1999; Mason 1962; Williams and Stoltman 1965). In the lower Southeast, movement along drainages would have trended from the interior to the coast, in a north-south direction in the Gulf Coastal Plain, and in a roughly northwest-southeast to east-west direction in the Atlantic Coastal Plain. In the interior Midsouth, movement would have been east and west along rivers like the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Ohio and some of their tributaries, as well as north-south into and out from the lower Midwest.While the Appalachian Mountains were likely a major barrier to east-west population movement along the middle Atlantic seaboard, farther south in the Gulf and lower Atlantic Coastal Plains east-west movement would have been easier, and could have proceeded along major ecotones like the Fall Line between the Coastal Plain and Piedmont, or along the coastline itself.

During the period of presumed initial human settlement, some time after the glacial maximum ca. 18,000 rcbp (21,400 B.P.), the Coastal Plain was almost twice its present size due to lowered sea levels. Sea levels rose and fell dramatically in the Late Pleistocene, with vast areas alternately submerged and exposed, something that almost certainly profoundly affected early human settlement. Rapid glacial retreat in the north began during the Bølling, after ca. 12,600 rcbp (14,850 B.P.), and continued with comparatively minor fluctuations until the sudden onset of the Younger Dryas glacial readvance around 10,800 rcbp (12,900 B.P.). Assuming initial human entry occurred sometime during the Bolling or Allerod, these groups would have been faced with a vast but slowly shrinking Coastal Plain, whose shoreline would be trending inland, save for comparatively minor movements in the other direction, during events like the Older Dryas (ca. 12,100-11,950 rcbp; 14,100-13,950 B.P.) and the Inter-Allerød Cold Period (ca. 11,400-11,100 rcbp; 13,400-13,100 B.P.). A major readvance, the Younger Dryas, occurred from ca. 10,800-10,100 rcbp (ca. 12,900-11,650 B.P.), with pronounced cold conditions appearing suddenly, within a human lifetime (Bjorck et al. 1996:1159). If a sudden drop in sea-level occurred (something that needs to be verified), it would have exposed large areas of the previously submerged continental shelf, an area that may have taken some time to revegetate.

The region below the Ohio River is south of the area covered by continental ice sheets during the glacial maximum (Dyke and Prest 1987a, 1987b). Whether glaciers or other permanent ice masses were present in the southern Appalachians or elsewhere in the Southeast during the Late Pleistocene is unknown, but if present they would have likely been quite small, and occurring only during periods of extreme and prolonged cold. Their impact on human settlement, accordingly, would have been minimal. There were no tundra environments in the Southeast, and no major glacial or pluvial lakes (comparable to the large lakes present to the north and in the west at the end of the Pleistocene). As the major river system draining the midcontinent, however, the Mississippi carried vast amounts of glacial meltwater during warming intervals.

The volume of water led to the creation of braided stream channels in the lower Mississippi valley, which were abruptly replaced by a meander regime once meltwater discharge ceased (Saucier 1994:45, 93-98). With lowered sea levels, many Late Pleistocene river systems may have been much narrower and more deeply incised than at present. With post glacial sea level rise, silting would have occurred along many channels, burying potential locations for early sites, which in the larger systems may have subsequently been lost to meander scouring (Goodyear 1999a; Knox 1983). Late Pleistocene terraces are often found above modern flood plains, however, rendering detection of surfaces of this period difficult.

High quality knappable stone occurs unevenly over the region, and in fact tends to be uncommon in some parts of the Coastal Plain and Piedmont. Major outcrops of chert occur in parts of the south Atlantic Coastal Plain, in Georgia and South Carolina and the Florida Peninsula, while farther west they tend to occur as gravel deposits in the Coastal Plain portions of Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Outcrops of high quality chert and novaculite, in large tabular masses, occur in portions of the interior highlands, in the Ouachita and Ozark mountains, and in the interior plateaus. Metavolcanics are known from across the Piedmont, but whether many or only a few key sources saw extensive exploitation is unknown, although evidence currently favors the latter position (Daniel 1998, 2001; Daniel and Butler 1991, Novick 1978). Lower quality cherts, quartz, and metavolcanics are more widespread in the interior, and as gravel deposits in portions of the Coastal Plain, but do not appear to have been the first choice of early populations, particularly those using Clovis technology (Goodyear 1979, 1989).

Boreal conifers like spruce and jack-pine dominated southeastern forests during the full glacial north of latitude 33, from about the vicinity of central South Carolina across to the Arkansas Louisiana line. With the onset of rapid deglaciation in the Bølling, mixed hardwood forests began to move northward from refugia in the lower Southeast. This expansion does not appear to have been affected much by the Younger Dryas readvance (M. Davis 1983:172-73; H. Delcourt and Delcourt 1985:19; P. Delcourt and Delcourt 1981, 1983, 1987, 1991; Jacobson et al. 1987; Overpeck et al. 1992; Steele et al. 1998:292; Watts 1971:687, 1980:195; Watts et al. 1996; T. Webb 1987, 1988; T.Webb et al. 1993). By 10,000 rcbp (11,450 B.P.), hardwood and mixed hardwood-pine forests were present across the entire southeast.

Late Pleistocene fauna in the Southeast encompassed a wide range of extinct and modern animal species. In addition to fauna such as mammoth, mastodon, horse, giant sloth, saber-toothed tiger, and camel, modern animals were also present such as white tailed deer, raccoon, and rabbit. The extent to which extinct fauna were exploited remains unknown, although there is no question they were at least occasionally targeted. The late Pleistocene extinctions were complete by ca. 10,800 rcbp or about 12,750 years ago (Mead and Meltzer 1984; Meltzer and Mead 1983), after which time local human populations had a much narrower array of animal resources to choose from.

  back  next  

 

 

figure 1

introduction

chronological considerations for the southeast

table 3

table 4

figure 2

geography and environmental conditions in the southeast

figure 3

EJL/MDC

Quick Menu