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Society for American Archaeology

The Geoarchaeology of Place: The Effect of Geological Processes on the Preservation and
Interpretation of the Archaeological Record
Author(s): Michael R. Waters and David D. Kuehn
Source: American Antiquity, Vol. 61, No. 3 (Jul., 1996), pp. 483-497
Published by: Society for American Archaeology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/281836
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American Antiquity.


Michael R. Watersand David D. Kuehn

Because the landscape on which prehistoric people lived was dynamic and continually changed, the record of prehistoric
activities across the landscape has been differentiallypreserved and destroyed. Insightful reconstructions of human organi-
zational (settlement)systemsfrom the archaeological record require a full understandingof the geologicalforces and history
that have shaped that record. The landscape histories of the North Dakota Badlands and the stream systems of southern
Arizona illustrate these points and the importanceof geoarchaeological investigations to properly interpretthe archaeologi-
cal record.

Debido a que las formaciones terrestresque grupos prehist6ricos ocuparon eran dindmicasy siempre cambiantes,el registro
de actividades prehist6ricas en el paisaje ha sido diferencialmentepreservado y destruido. Reconstrucciones significativas
de los sistemas organizacionales humanos (de asentamiento) requieren un entendimientocompleto de lasfuerzas geol6gicas
y la historia que le dio forma a dicho registro. La historia de las formaciones terrestres de los "Badlands"de Dakota del
Norte y de los sistemas fluviales del sur de Arizona ilustra estos puntos y la importancia que guardan las investigaciones
geoarqueol6gicas para interpretarpropiamente el registro arqueol6gico.

T he importanceof knowing how prehistoric time may be the result of change to the landscape
people utilized places on the landscapefor or other environmentalvariables (e.g., climate,
different activities and the need to realize flora, and fauna). While this second point is
that activities change at any specific place important,the focus of this paperis on the preser-
through time are widely appreciated (Binford vation of sites andthe resultantimplicationsto the
1980, 1982; Rossignol and Wandsnider 1992; interpretationof the behavioral organization of
Stafford 1994). Ideally, archaeologists hope to sites-that is, is the preservedpatternof sites rep-
reconstruct from the archaeological remains at resentative of the actual prehistoric pattern of
these places the networkof sites thatwere used by activity? Have geological processes affected site
people at any specific time. However,there is one preservationand biased our perceptionabouthow
key factorthat is underappreciatedin the study of the landscapewas utilized?We addressthis issue
places-that is, the landscape changes! by examiningtwo areas where the archaeological
Landscapes are not static but ratherare dynamic recordand geological historyhave been studiedin
and continuallychanging.This has two important detail: (1) the North Dakota Badlandsand (2) the
implications for the interpretationof site pattern- drainages of southern Arizona (Figure 1). The
ing across the landscape.First,sites thatwere part first case study shows how the geological history
of a prehistoricculturalsystem are destroyedover of erosion and deposition in differentareasof the
time, thus fragmentingthe record of human set- landscape have temporally and spatially segre-
tlement and activity for any time period. Second, gated the archaeological record of hunters and
these varied sites were situated on a landscape gatherers and led to false conclusions about
thatwas probablydifferentfrom the modernland- human utilization of the Badlands. The second
scape; thus, change in the use of a place through study illustrates how the geological history of
Michael R. Waters * Departmentof Anthropology,Texas A & M University, College Station, TX 77843-4352
David D. Kuehn * Center for EnvironmentalArchaeology, Texas A & M University, College Station, TX 77843-4352

American Antiquity, 61(3), 1996, pp. 483-497.

Copyright? by the Society for American Archaeology

484 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 61, No. 3, 1996

r i


Figure 1. Map of the western United States showing the two study areas. The Badlands are indicated by hatching along
the Little Missouri River. Symbols on the Arizona map are as follows: SR, Salt River; GR, Gila River; SCR, Santa Cruz
River; CC, Cienega Creek; SPR, San Pedro River; WWD, Whitewater Draw.

four adjacent valleys in southern Arizona has that is, or that becomes, subjectto erosional con-
influenced our perception of utilization of inter- ditions, all or part of the site will be destroyed.
valley landscapes. Both studies clearly illustrate Similarly,if the site is situatedin an areaof active
the need for detailedgeoarchaeologicalinvestiga- deposition,or if depositionbegins sometime after
tions to accurately interpret the archaeological abandonment,the site will be buried.
record. Even if sites areinitiallypreserved,laterdegra-
dationof the landscapeaffects theirchance of sur-
The Link between Geological Processes and
viving into the present. If the landscape enters a
the Archaeological Record
degradationalmode, previously preserved sites
Regardless of environment, the archaeological may be destroyed.For example, if a river down-
recordhas in large part been shaped by the same cuts into its flood plain and widens its channel,
processes that have molded the landscape previouslypreservedsites in the zone of entrench-
(Albanese 1978a; Bettis 1995; Butzer 1982; ment will be eroded. Each subsequent degrada-
Davidson 1985; Mandel 1995; Schiffer 1987; tional event diminishesthe completenessof those
Thompsonand Bettis 1982; Waters1992). People portions of the geological and archaeological
decide where to place sites, but once people aban- record that have survived into the present. The
don a site, the geomorphicconditionscharacteriz- greaterthe number,duration,and intensityof ero-
ing the landscapedeterminewhetherit is initially sional events, the greaterthe destruction.
preservedor destroyed.If the landscapeis stable In some cases, regional erosional events com-
(i.e., if it is characterizedby negligible erosion or pletely removeolder sedimentsand soils thatmay
deposition), an archaeologicalsite may remainat containarchaeologicalremains.In these cases, no
the surface without becoming either buried or deposits or soils of a certaintime intervalare pre-
eroded. However,if the site is situatedin an area sent anywherein a given region, creatinga break

IL 0-4500 B.P.
x 4500-8500 B.P.
0 8500-11,800 B.P.
_ _.Iw .-"
> 24,000B.P., Mb.W,W C

4i 500-5500 B.P.
800-2700 B.P.

150-400 B.P. \



Figure 2. Generalized late Quaternary geology of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Loess, although
shown only on the PT4 surface, occurs on all Pleistocene terraces.

in the stratigraphicrecordand correspondinglyin nal universe of archaeological sites that once

the archaeologicalrecord. existed must be evaluated before meaningful
In short, the nature and completeness of the archaeological interpretations can be made
buried archaeologicalrecord parallels the nature (Albanese 1978a; Bettis 1995; Butzer 1982;
and completenessof the geological sequence.The Davidson 1985; Mandel 1992; Schiffer 1987;
structureof the geological sequence is determined Thompson and Bettis 1982; Waters 1992).
by the number,magnitude,duration,areal extent, Archaeologists must consider to what extent the
and timing of periods of deposition, erosion, and observed patterns of occupation within and
stability. These factors control how many sedi- between areas accuratelyreflects the distribution
mentary units, paleosols, and erosional surfaces of human activity or the biases of geological
are present, their spatial distribution and preservation.
sequence, and the amount of time they represent.
These same factors are importantin creation of Geoarchaeological Interpretation of Site
the archaeologicalrecordbecause deposition,ero- Patterning in the North Dakota Badlands
sion, and stability work in concert to preserve, The Little Missouri Badlands are a deeply
arrange, and fragment the evidence of human entrenched erosional terrain situated in western
activity on the landscape.Therefore,how well the North Dakota (Figure 1). Encompassingan area
preservedsites of a region approximatethe origi- of over 5,400 km2,the Badlandswere createddur-
486 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 61, No. 3, 1996

ing the late Quaternarywhen the Little Missouri sions, which have trappedand preservedthe sed-
River down-cutinto the poorly induratedTertiary iments of each member.The Riverdale member
deposits underlying the Missouri Plateau. The (4500 B.P.to present)is the most widespreadand
Little Missouri River, which now flows through is present at virtually every outcrop of loess.
the centralaxis of the Badlands,is on average90 Sedimentsolder than Riverdalewere encountered
m below the prebadlandPleistocene surface.The at only eight stratigraphicsections where the
information presented below is derived from small basin trapsare located. Of the linear 24 km
extensive archaeological and geoarchaeological of upland edges examined,the visible horizontal
studies undertaken in Theodore Roosevelt extent of all Aggie Brown and Pick City member
National Park,which lies in the centralportionof sedimentstotal less than 550 m or 2.3 percent of
the Badlands(Kuehn 1993, 1995). the total length of the escarpments.
The landformswithin the Badlandsare divided The lowland landforms consist primarily of
into threelandscapecategories:upland,intermedi- alluvial terracesand fans (Figure2). Geomorphic
ate, and lowlandlandformassociations(Figure2). studies have shown that the valleys within the
The upland landscapes include all flat-lying sur- Badlands had a similar geological history. Four
faces (buttes, ridges, and knobs composed of depositionalterraceslabeledT4 to T 1, fromoldest
Tertiary sediments) above the Little Missouri to youngest, are found along the drainageswithin
Riverand its tributaries.These landformsarecom- the Little Missouri Badlands (Kuehn 1995).
monly overlain by a mantle of late Quaternary Seventeen radiocarbonages indicate that the ter-
loess. Lowland landscapes include all landforms race 4 fill was depositedbetween about 7000 and
that occupy the valley lowlands adjacent to the 6000 B.P.,terrace3 between 5500 and 4500 B.P.,
Little MissouriRiverand its tributariescreatedby terrace2 between2700 and 800 B.P.,andterrace1
alluvial processes. This includes all late between400 and 150 B.P.The modernflood plains
Quaternaryterraces, flood plains, stream chan- of the Little Missouriand its tributarieswere cre-
nels, and alluvial fans. Intermediatelandscapes ated within the past 150 years. Terrace4 and ter-
include the slopes and hills that lie between the race 3 are poorly preservedwithin the valleys of
uplands and lowlands where bedrock is either the Badlands, while terrace 2 and terrace 1 are
exposed or coveredby a thin veneer of colluvium. common. Along the Little Missouri River, the
Of these threeareas,the uplandsand lowlandsare maindrainagethroughthe Badlands,99 percentof
the most importantdepositionalsettings. the alluvial landformsare composed of terrace 1
The upland landforms are capped by late and the modernflood plain (with two very minor
Quaternaryage eolian silt and sand deposits with remnantsof terrace2). Alluvial fan and slopewash
multiple buried soils (Figure 2). These sediments sediments commonly interfingerwith the terrace
are assignableto the Aggie Brown,Pick City, and deposits. No alluvial sediments older than 7000
Riverdalemembers of the Oahe formation(Artz B.P.have thus far been identified in the Badlands.
1995; Clayton et al. 1976). Fifteen radiocarbon Along the Little Missouri River, with the excep-
ages indicatethat eolian depositionbegan around tion of the two remnantsof terrace2 and associ-
12,000 B.P. and continues to this day (Aggie ated alluvium, no sediments older than 400 B.P.
Brown, 11,800 to 8500 B.P.; Pick City, 8500 to are present in the areas investigated.The frag-
4500 B.P.;Riverdale,4500 B.P to present).While mented nature of the terraces illustrate the
the composite late Quaternary stratigraphic dynamicerosionalprocesses in the lowlands.
sequence of the uplands is fairly complete, the An intensive archaeologicalsurvey of 25 per-
stratigraphic composition of individual loess cent of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt
sequences varies widely because wind deflation National Park(n = 4840 ha) resultedin the iden-
has periodicallyremovedthe older loess deposits. tification of 178 sites (Kuehn 1990, 1995).
Some sections contain only one member of the Seventy-seven percent (n = 137) of the sites
Oahe formation, some contain two, and others within the Parkare found in uplandsettings, usu-
contain all three. The most complete sections are ally within the loess, while only 14 percent (n =
located in small uplandbasins, or bedrockdepres- 25) of the sites are found in the lowlands and 9

percent (n = 16) are found on the intermediate 16

slopes. The unequal natureof landformsetting is

evident when sites from a larger portion of the 14
Badlands are statistically analyzed by chi-square
and discriminantfunction analysis. These analy- 12
ses indicatethat sites are not randomlydistributed
across the landscape but instead show that site W
I- 10-
densities are greatest in upland settings (Kuehn
1990, 1995). U.
Of the total number of recorded sites, 29 can 8-
be assigned to a specific time period based on the a
presence of diagnostic artifacts, stratigraphic zP 6

position, or associated radiocarbonages (Figure z

3; Kuehn 1990). The oldest components 4.
(Paleoindian,EarlyArchaic, and Middle Archaic)
dating before 3500 B.P. are all located on upland 2-
landforms in association with loess deposits
(Figure 4). In contrast, the percentage of Late
Archaic components in uplands decreases to 43 z
percent,while sites occur on the intermediateand a o
lowland landscapes for the first time, composing z I- c
43 and 14 percent of the sample, respectively w
(Figure 4). Late Prehistoricsites dating between
2000 B.P.and historiccontactabout200 years ago
(grouped here as including Plains Woodland,
Plains Village, and unclassified Late Prehistoric
groups) are found most frequentlyin upland set- ARCHAEOLOGICAL CHRONOLOGY
tings (50 percent), then in lowland locations (38
percent), and finally in intermediatesettings (12 Figure 3. Number of time-diagnostic sites in the South
percent). Late Prehistoric site locations show a Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
markedincreasein the numberof sites in lowland
settings. made largely uninhabitableby extensive down-
One of the first observationsthat can be made cutting and people preferredto live in the larger
from these distributionsis thatthere is an increase valleys like those found along the MissouriRiver.
in the number of sites with decreasing site age However, the last four authorsprovided another
(Figure 3). This may reflect increased utilization explanation: perhaps the absence of early sites
of the Badlands over time. In fact, Loendorf and was due to erosion.
others (1982:46-8) suggested that the Badlands Comparing the late Quaternary geological
received little human utilization during the late record with the archaeological record provides
Pleistocene and early Holocene because of a insights into the noted increase in the frequency
decline of local resource potential resulting from of sites over time. In the lowlands, there is virtu-
deterioratingpostglacial climatic conditions and ally no potential for Paleoindian sites and mini-
associated landscape instability. Loendorf sug- mal potential for Early Archaic sites because of
gests thatthe MiddleArchaic representedthe ear- the absence of fluvial deposits or landformsdat-
liest intensiveuse of the Little MissouriBadlands. ing to this time period. Likewise, there is a corre-
Beckes and Keyser (1983) and Simon and Keim spondence between the presence of younger
(1983) also suggest that the absence of early sites landforms and deposits in the lowlands and the
could be attributed to cultural preference; the increases in archaeological sites over time.
Badlands were avoided because the region was Similarly, hill-slope retreat and erosion on the
488 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 61, No. 3, 1996


12,000 10,000 8000 6000 4000 2000 0

I a 1


,-T4- I--T3 -- - T2'--- ITIl


u, 8-

cr 6-
0 4-
Z 7I /J
2 -

I--r - m-A _'v ..
- . . - - -I r- .I. !. - 1



Figure 4. Association of time-diagnostic sites and landforms within Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Periods of depo-
sition of eolian and fluvial units are indicated.

intermediateslopes has removed all but the very Paleoindian and Early Archaic groups as well,
latest portions of the archaeological record hill-slope erosion surelyaffectedthe early archae-
(Kuehn 1995). ological record. Clayton and Tinker (1971) stud-
However,the trend of increased utilization of ied hill-slope retreat in Theodore Roosevelt
the Badlandsover time shouldbe preservedin the National Parkand documentedthe averagemod-
uplands where deposits from 12,000 B.P. to pre- ern rate of slope retreatto be .36 to 1.04 cm/year.
sent are preserved, even though older loess It cannot be assumed that these rates were con-
depositsare less commonthanlaterunits. It seems stant through the late Quaternary;indeed, they
logical to assume that even if the older loess was may have been even greater during the more
removed by wind erosion, older archaeological severe periods of middle Holocene aridity.Nor
materialshould occur on a deflatedsurfaceunder- were all areas similarly affected by hill-slope
lying the younger loess. However,anotherfactor, retreat.However,given the erosionalnatureof hill
hill-slope retreat,also must be considered. Over slopes and evidence for widespreadmodernslope
time, this process may have influencedthe tempo- retreat, the paucity of Paleoindian and Early
ral archaeologicalrecordof the uplands. Archaic sites in the uplands appears to be the
Based on the location of Middle Archaic result of geological erosion and not culturalfac-
through Late Prehistoric sites, it appears that tors. Thus, the pattern of increased site density
these groups concentratedtheir upland activities throughtime is more likely the result of geomor-
along the edges of ridges andbuttes,ratherthan in phic processes and not a culturalphenomenon.
the interiors,in orderto take advantageof supe- The next patternto consider is the distribution
rior views (Kuehn 1990:192). If this were true of of sites across the upland,intermediate,and low-

land landscapes(Figure4). When site location and <10 percent of the total alluvial landscape.
age are considered,there is no use of the lowlands Remnants of terrace 3 occur primarily along
until after 3500 B.P., starting with the Late majortributariesof the Little Missouri River.No
Archaic. Meanwhile, upland landforms contain terrace3 remnantsoccur along the Little Missouri
evidence of extensive use from ca. 5000 B.P. River. Thus, the potential for older sites on or
(Middle Archaic) through the Late Prehistoric. within the lowland settings is nil (Paleoindian,
Previous explanations for the site-landformpat- EarlyArchaic) to poor (Middle Archaic).
terns in the Badlandshave again centeredon cul- The emergenceof Late Archaic settlementson
tural preference and settlement system the lowlands is not surprisingwhen consideredin
characteristics,includinghypothesesthatridgetop the context of the regional geology (Figure 4).
landforms were used as travel corridorsthrough LateArchaic sites could be located on the surface
the ruggedBadlandsterrain(Simon 1982:60);that of the olderterrace3 andterrace4. However,more
Middle Archaic groups concentratedtheir activi- importantly,Late Archaic sites can be situatedon
ties on ridgetopsbecause of a combinationof fac- and within terrace2, which was deposited during
tors, including ecological diversity, view, and the Late Archaic period. Terrace2 is widely dis-
proximityto resources(Beckes and Keyser 1983); tributed along the tributary streams in the
and that Late Prehistoricgroups made greateruse Badlands (Kuehn 1995). Correspondingly,most
of major riverine settings than did earlier groups lowland Late Archaic sites occur on or in the ter-
because of changing climate (Beckes and Keyser races along the tributariesof the Little -Missouri
1983; Hill 1988). These previousexplanationsare River. Only one Late Archaic site is known from
based on the premise that the extant archaeologi- the segmentof the Little MissouriRivertraversing
cal record is an accuratereflection of prehistoric Theodore Roosevelt Park. The paucity of Late
settlementpatterns.This assumptionfails to con- Archaicsites along the Little MissouriRiveragain
sider the effect of geological processes on the is explained by geological processes. Along the
archaeologicalrecord.We will now reexaminethe section of the Little Missouri River traversing
archaeological database in light of the late TheodoreRoosevelt Park,there are only two very
Quaternarystratigraphicframework. small remnantsof terrace2. Thus,thereappearsto
Recall that the oldest sediments preserved in be a very low volume of sedimentof LateArchaic
the lowlands are associated with terrace4, which age along this main streamcourse.
was deposited from 7000 to 6000 B.P.Thus, there Late Prehistoric components (i.e., Plains
are no alluvial sediments older than 7000 B.P. in Woodland,Plains Village, and unclassified Late
the lowlands, which precludesthe preservationof Prehistoricgroups) are most diverse in terms of
Paleoindian and most Early Archaic sites. landformsetting;these sites occur in upland,low-
Furthermore,the poor preservation and limited land, and intermediate areas (Figure 4). In the
distributionof terrace4 (due to erosion) suggests uplands, loess of Late Prehistoricage is ubiqui-
that Early Archaic sites are likely to be rare. tous. Likewise, in the lowlands the high number
Terrace 4 remnants occur at only 10 localities of sites is a directreflectionof the widespreadter-
within two tributarydrainages and do not occur race 1 fill. These sediments are present in all the
along the Little Missouri River (Kuehn 1995). tributarystreams and within the main valley of
The absence of Middle Archaic sites from the the Little Missouri River. Late Prehistoric sites
lowlands is again relatedto the age of fluvial sed- occur within the terrace 1 fill and on the surfaces
iments. Within the study area, potential for of older terraces, which make up the rest of the
Middle Archaic sites in the lowlands is limited to lowlands. In summary,the pattern of increased
the surfaces of terrace4 and terrace3 and within utilization of the lowland landscape over time
the fill of terrace 3, which is dated between 5500 more than likely is a direct reflection of the geo-
and 4500 B.P. However,as alreadystated,terrace logical history of the Badlandsfluvial system and
4 has a very limited spatial distribution.Terrace3 not a culturalphenomenon.
is somewhat more widespread but is still rare Now that the significant temporal and spatial
compared to the younger terraces, comprising biases in the archaeological record have been
490 AMERICANANTIQUITY [Vol. 61, No. 3, 1996

identified,we turnour attentionto an examination entire winters there, as the Badlands are
of the completeness of hunter-gatherersite pat- extremely well sheltered (Bowers 1948). In his-
terning within the Badlands. First we determine toric times, the Badlands were considered some
the relationship between natural site formation of the richest game hunting territory in the
processes and site type; then we consider the Northern Great Plains (Nelson 1946; Simon
implications of this relationshipto the study of 1982). In additionto the abundanceof game ani-
prehistoric settlement and subsistence in the mals, such as bison, deer, elk, and bighorn sheep,
Badlands. the Badlands were also rich in floral resources
The site type classifications utilized in our such as chokecherry,wild plum, gooseberry,and
analysis follow the logistical land-use strategies buffaloberryto name but a few. Why then is there
identified by Binford (1980, 1982) for hunter- a lack of evidence for floral and faunal procure-
gatherer collector groups. While all five of ment sites? One reason may be that the target
Binford's (1980) collector site types (residential resourcesthemselves are organicand are not con-
bases, field camps, locations, stations,caches) are ducive to preservation in the archaeological
identified in the Badlands,we concentrateon the record. If processing implements, such as grind-
three that are most prevalent in the Badlands ing stones or scrapers,were curated and carried
archaeologicalrecord. These are locations, field away from the site the only evidence remaining
camps, and residentialbases. would be the rapidly deterioratingorganic waste
Locations, or resourceprocurementareas, are (e.g., seeds and bone fragments).If maintenance-
common throughoutthe Badlands. In the study related flint knappinghad been conducted at the
area,they accountfor 43.3 percentof the total site location, flaking debris very well could be the
assemblage. These sites are primarilyassociated only materialremaining.
with outcrops of Tertiaryand Pleistocene river Factors of material preservation and artifact
gravels in the uplands where materials for tool curationaside, the stratigraphicand geomorphic
manufacturing were obtained. No temporally data also provide clues for a second explanation.
diagnostic artifacts have been recovered from Of all the targetfloral and faunal resourcesmen-
these sites, although their presence elsewhere in tioned,only bison were likely to be found in abun-
the uplands outside the study area suggests that dance on the grass-covered buttes and ridge
they were used since Paleoindiantimes. systems in the Badlands. Floral resources were
A curious and potentiallysignificant aspect of and still are concentratedin intermediateand low-
the locations in the study area is the paucity of land landform settings, particularly wooded
sites associated with floral and faunal procure- slopes, hardwood draws (i.e., heavily vegetated
ment. Only two such sites were identified:a bison sloping valleys), and streamside riparian areas.
kill site and an eagle trappingpit (Kuehn 1995). These shelteredlocationsand slopes were also the
The absence of such sites is puzzling given the preferredhabitatfor deer, elk, and bighornsheep.
fact that the Badlands contain abundantnatural Whatdo we now know aboutthe geomorphichis-
resourceswithin a varietyof ecosystems. The dif- tory of areas such as these? They are all dynamic
ferent ecosystems, which include riparianwood- landscapessubjectto the degradationalprocesses
lands, hardwood draws, and upland grasslands, of hill-slope erosion, gullying, piping, slumping,
are the result of the Badlands high topographic and down-cutting. Likewise, while the frequent
relief. The landscapeof the Badlandsis especially occurrenceof bison in the uplandstoday is testa-
dramaticwhen comparedto the relativelyfeature- ment to the likelihood that they were abundantin
less terrainof the surroundingMissouri Plateau. similar settings prehistorically,with a few excep-
Ethnographic evidence indicates that Plains tions (Frison 1978) it is unlikely that they were
Village groups living along the Missouri River in dispatched by hunting groups in such exposed
west-central North Dakota frequently ventured areas. On the contrary, the evidence from
into the Badlands on hunting forays because of throughoutthe NorthwesternPlains suggests that
the abundance of game (Bowers 1948, 1965; bison were driven off cliffs and cutbanks and
Wilson 1928). Small groups occasionally spent trapped in the head-wall portions of gullies,

arroyos, and natural sinks (Albanese 1978b; likely to gain an understandingof the natureand
Frison 1978; Frison et al. 1976; Loendorf et al. extent of field camp use by these groups in the
1982). These settings are also geomorphically lowlands.
unstable. It is thereforeprobablyno coincidence The second importantimplication of the spa-
thatthe only bison procurementsite located in the tial and temporal pattern of the archaeological
study area is associated with Late Prehistoric and geological records concerns seasonal utiliza-
Plains Village artifacts and is situated in slump tion of the region. It has been arguedby previous
deposits at the toe of the Little Missouri escarp- researchers(East et al. 1985; Kuehn 1990) that
ment. Older sites in similar settings are not likely field camps located in the high, exposed uplands
to have survived to become part of the extant were not likely to have been occupied duringthe
archaeological record. For these reasons, the winter months, given the normal severity of win-
absence of floral and faunalresourceprocurement ters in the Northern Plains. Winter occupation,
sites very well could be a reflection of the geo- like that ethnographicallydocumented for the
morphic setting of the localities where the pro- Mandan and Hidatsa (Bowers 1948, 1965), was
curementwas conducted. In a region as dynamic no doubt concentratedin the more shelteredlow-
as the Badlands,such geomorphicsettings are not lands. Therefore,because field camps associated
conducive to archaeological site preservation. with Paleoindian, Early Archaic, and Middle
This possibility has implications for future Archaic groups are limited to uplandsettings due
researchin thatextantfloral or faunallocations, if to geological preservation, their settlement and
identified, are likely to date to the late Holocene. subsistenceactivities duringthe winter season are
The largest category of site type in the study going to remain unknown if they followed the
area,field camps (which comprise56.2 percentof ethnographicsettlementpatternof historicgroups
the site assemblage in the study area) are also (Frison 1978; Hanson 1983; Nicholson 1988).
conducive to reexaminationwithin a geomorphic Although not identified in the study area,resi-
context. Field camps are found in virtually every dential bases are an important constituent of
landformsetting and major depositionalenviron- hunter-gatherersettlements (Binford 1980). At
ment in the study area. Because it has been least three residential bases occur north of the
demonstratedthat the ages of the landforms and study area (Kuehn 1990) and two residential
environmentsare highly disparate,so then are the bases are identified a short distance south of the
ages of the field camps associated with them. study area (Johnson 1983; Metcalf and
Camp sites located in the eolian uplandshave the Schweigert 1987). Of significance is the fact that
potential to date back to Paleoindian times, but all of these sites are late Holocene in age. Three
the stratigraphicdata suggest that the majorityof are assigned to the Plains Woodland tradition
intact sites are going to be younger than ca. 5500 (Kuehn 1990) and two are assigned to the Plains
to 4500 B.P.(i.e., youngerthanthe last episode of Village tradition (Johnson 1983; Metcalf and
middle Holocene drought and erosion). In the Schweigert 1987). Equally significant is the fact
alluvial lowlands, no field camps older than ca. that all of the residentialbases are located within
7000 B.P. are to be expected, and the vast major- the valley of the Little Missouri River.Two of the
ity are likely to date from the late Holocene (i.e., Plains Woodlandsites north of the study area are
in association with Late Prehistoricgroups).This situated in slopewash-coveredfoothills along the
is a reflection of the temporaland spatial pattern valley margin,while the thirdis situatedin terrace
of the extant sedimentologicaland archaeological 2 fill near the mouth of an intermittentstream
records, a patternthat has two implications that (Kuehn 1990, 1995). Both of the Plains Village
are very importantto the study of prehistoricset- sites are situatedin the fill of terrace 1 along the
tlement and subsistence in the Badlands region. Little Missouri River, although one is associated
First, it limits archaeological knowledge about with slopewash rather than fluvial sediments
Paleoindian, Early Archaic, and Middle Archaic (Johnson 1983; Metcalf and Schweigert 1987).
lifeways to those activities conducted in upland All of these are appropriatesettings for residential
settings. Consequently, archaeologists are not bases in that base camp locations appearto have
492 AMERICANANTIQUITY [Vol. 61, No. 3, 1996

been dependent on proximity to certain critical record concerning extended occupation prior to
resources such as water, shelter from the ele- 2000 B.P.The processes responsiblefor this par-
ments, and fuel (Binford and Binford 1969; ticular research deficiency are the multiple
Greiser 1985; Hanson 1983; Jochim 1976). episodes of fluvial erosion that appear to have
Upland locations, which tend to be flat, exposed, removed virtually all late Pleistocene and early
and grass-covered,do not generally offer these and middle Holocene age sediment from the
resources in quantities sufficient to make Little Missouri Valley. It is ironic that there is a
extended occupation practical. It is therefore higherdegree of sedimentpreservationin the val-
hypothesized that residential bases in the leys of tributarystreams,but these streamswere
Badlands were concentratedin riverine settings not preferredlocations for extended occupation.
along the Little Missouri River,a hypothesissup- Clearly,geomorphicprocesses in the Badlands
portedby the location of the five residentialbases have fragmentedthe record of prehistoricuse of
thus far identified (Kuehn 1995). Given what is places over the landscape.This destructionis so
known about the age of sediments in the Little extremethatthe extantarchaeologicalrecorddoes
MissouriValley,it is not surprisingthatthe known not reflect the entire range of prehistorichuman
residential bases are late Holocene in age. The behaviorsthatoccurredin the Badlandsuntil very
oldest sediments preserved along the Little Late Prehistorictimes.
Missouri are those associated with the terrace 2
fill, deposited between about 800 and 2700 B.P., Geoarchaeological Interpretation of Site
while the vast majorityof sedimentsmake up the Patterning in Southern Arizona
terrace 1 fill, depositedbetween roughly 150 and It shouldbe clearfromthe previousdiscussionthat
400 B.P. This limits the potential for base camps the structureof the archaeologicalrecord in any
to Late Archaic and Late Prehistoricgroups. The area is in large part controlled by geological
fact that no Late Archaic base camps have yet processes. Now we consider the archaeological
been identified may be relatedto limited preser- record at a broaderscale-that is, how well the
vation of the terrace 2 fill in the Little Missouri archaeological record is preserved between
Valley. Again, previous researchershave argued regions.
instead that the paucity of residentialbase camps The differentialstructureof the archaeological
duringthe Paleoindianand Archaicperiods is the recordbetweenregionshas importantimplications
result of a different settlement pattern; specifi- for archaeologicalinterpretations.Archaeologists
cally, in the case of the Late Archaic, Hill must consider whether the observed patterns of
(1988:16) suggests that these groups did not use occupationbetweenregionsaccuratelyreflectsthe
base camps. In additionto not accountingfor nat- distributionof humanactivityor the biases of geo-
ural site formation processes, this argument is logical preservationprocesses. For example, the
also inconsistentwith existing archaeologicaland absence of human activity in one valley while
ethnographicevidence, which suggests that base another valley is extensively utilized may be
camps were an importantconstituentin the settle- inferred to reflect a cultural preference for one
ment patterns of virtually all prehistorichunter- area over anotherbecause of availableresources.
gatherers in the Plains region (Greiser 1985). Likewise, the absence of a certain culturalphase
Consequently,there is no reason to believe that within a valley after a long period of occupation
the use of base camps in the Badlandswas limited may be interpretedas a sudden abandonment,
only to Late Prehistoric groups. The fact that while in anothervalley the sudden appearanceof
these are the only culturalgroups currentlyasso- thatculturalphase aftera hiatusin occupationmay
ciated with residentialbases is more than likely a be interpreted to be the result of migration.
reflectionof the originallocation of these types of However,such patternsmay also be the result of
sites (in riverinesettings)and the geomorphichis- geological processes.In this example,we consider
tory of such settings. Once again, the evidence the archaeologicalrecordof riverineutilizationof
suggests that a largeportionof the prehistoricset- four adjacentriver valleys in southernArizona
tlement record is absent-this time, most of the the upper Santa Cruz River (San Xavier reach),

CULTURES 1988) 1983) 1981, 1982) 1986) (WATERS N.D.)



Figure 5. Relationship between archaeological periods and the geological records of several streams in Arizona.

Cienega Creek, San PedroRiver, and Whitewater no older than 4000 B.P. are preserved(Eddy and
Draw(Figures 1 and 5). Even thoughthese valleys Cooley 1983). In the San Pedrodrainage,the allu-
lie adjacentto one another,they had independent vial stratigraphicsequence is well preserved,with
and differentlandscapehistories with deposition, sedimentsrangingfrom 15,000 B.P.to the present
erosion, and stability occurringat differenttimes with only one majorerosionalunconformitydated
in each valley during the late Quaternary.As a between6500 and 8000 B.P.(Haynes 1981, 1982).
consequence, each valley contains a different The alluvial sediments in WhitewaterDraw are
stratigraphicsequence of sediments, soils, and similarly well preserved, with sediments dating
erosional unconformities. In the southern Santa from 15,000 B.P.to historic times (Waters1986).
Cruz River Valley, only sediments dating from We can now examine the archaeologicalrecordof
5500 B.P. to the historic period are preserved riverine utilization of this segment of southern
because of a major erosional event that occurred Arizona in the context of the geological record.
duringthe middleHolocene (Waters1988).A sim- First, consider the Paleoindian(Clovis) record
ilar period of erosion affected the stratigraphic (Figure 5). In the San PedroValley, a large num-
record of Cienega Creek, where again sediments ber of undisturbed Clovis sites are preserved
494 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 61, No. 3, 1996

within the riverinesediments (Hauryet al. 1953; ing the middle Gila River and the Tonto Basin
Haury et al. 1959; Haynes 1981, 1982). These (Tonto Creek and Salt River). Along the middle
sites include Lehner,Naco, MurraySprings, and Gila River,the oldest preservedalluvium dates to
many others that represent a range of activities 4800 B.P. (Huckleberry 1993). Likewise, along
from procurement(mammoth hunting) to field the Salt River and TontoCreekin the TontoBasin
camps. These sites are preserved because of the no alluvial sedimentsolderthan3500 B.P.arepre-
favorablegeological conditionsthat existed in the served (Waters 1997). In both areas the alluvium
San Pedro Valley during the late Pleistocene. is very recent, and erosion in both areas has
First, Clovis sites were buried soon after aban- removedthe late Pleistocene sedimentrecordand
donment beneath an organic-richclay, the black with it any traces of Clovis occupation.It is inter-
mat, which was depositedin a low-energycienega esting to note that Clovis hunters were present
environment.Second, subsequentHolocene ero- along the middle Gila River and in the Tonto
sion did not remove the Clovis-age surface. On Basin based on the discovery of isolated Clovis
the otherhand,no Clovis sites have been found in projectile points on the surface of the bajadas
WhitewaterDraw, even though sediments of this (alluvial piedmont) adjacentto the riverineareas
age (units Da and Db) are exposed in the arroyo. (Huckell 1982). Clearly,Clovis people were using
This is largely due to the fact that, even though this region, but the most likely localities for their
units Da and Db are time transgressive,rangingin activities have disappeared.
age from 15,000 to 8000 B.P.,most of these sedi- Next, consider the Archaic record (Figure 5).
ments date between 10,000 and 8000 B.P., and The early Archaic record of the southern Santa
only a few of the sand and gravel deposits are Cruz River and Cienega Creek flood plains is
older than 10,000 B.P. Moreover, if Clovis completelyabsentbecause deposits of this age are
remains were found in units Da and Db, they not preserved. Early Archaic remains are found
would lie in secondary contexts, because these only within the San PedroValley and Whitewater
sands and gravelswere depositedin a high-energy Draw.EarlyArchaic sites in the San PedroValley
braided stream environment,which is not con- alluvium lie in a primarycontext because of the
ducive to the preservationof behavioralcontexts. low-energyassociatedwith depositionof the units
If Clovis sites do occur in a secondary context, that contain them. In contrast,most of the Early
they would likely be undetectable because the Archaic remainsfrom WhitewaterDraw,with the
sparse material record typically found at Clovis exception of one site, are found in a secondary
sites would become lost within the enormousvol- context. Likewise, the Middle Archaic record is
ume of sand and gravel. Finally, in the alluvial similarlyfragmentedbetweenthe valleys, with the
valleys of both the southernSantaCruzRiver and most severegap in the San PedroValley(Figure5).
Cienega Creek, erosional episodes have removed It is not until the Late Archaic that for the first
Clovis sites that once may have existed. time sites have the potential to be equally pre-
Therefore,the intensityof Clovis use of the river- served and reasonableintervalleycorrelationsof
ine environmentsof the upper Santa Cruz River, human behaviorcan be made between the upper
WhitewaterDraw, and Cienega Creek cannot be Santa Cruz, San Pedro, Cienega Creek, and
gauged. As a result, it cannot be determined WhitewaterDraw. The archaeologicalrecord of
whetherthe Clovis recordof the San PedroValley riverineutilization of the middle Gila River and
representsa unique, intensive occupation of this streamsin the Tonto Basin is also fragmentedby
valley alone during the late Pleistocene or geological processes.Along the middleGila River,
whether this record instead reflects the biases the Archaic record could date back to 4800 B.P.,
imposed by different intervalley geological the age of the oldest preserved alluvium
processes. If the latteris true, then perhapsa sim- (Huckleberry 1993). Within the Tonto Basin,
ilar level of Clovis activity occurredwithin other along the Salt RiverandTontoCreek,the absence
valleys of southern Arizona. This, however, we of alluvialsedimentsdatingbeyond3500 B.P pre-
shall never know.These same conclusions can be cludes all but a Late Archaic recordof utilization
extended to other valleys within Arizona, includ- of these flood plains (Waters1997). The observa-
Waters and Kuehn] RECORD

tions concerningthe LateArchaichold true for the Conclusions

Late Prehistoricrecord(Figure5). Again, the allu-
vium of each valley datingto the past 2,000 years In summary,the archaeologicalrecord does not
is well preservedandthus has the potentialto con- accuratelyreflect the complete patternof human
tain a more complete record of human activity of sites that once existed in a given region through
the riverineareas.Thus, late prehistoricintravalley time. Geomorphic processes associated with
and intervalleyutilization and human interaction changing landscapes have significantly affected
can be studiedwith confidence. the temporal and spatial archaeological sample.
The example presented here is a situation in From the beginning, geomorphicprocesses oper-
which valley landscapes responded differently ate on a site after its abandonmentand determine
over time and createdalluvial sequencesthatwere whether it is initially preserved or destroyed.
unique to each valley. Because the number,mag- Subsequenterosion may remove all or part of the
nitude, duration,areal extant, and timing of ero- evidence of preservedoccupationsat any time by
sion, deposition, and stable intervals were completely removing the older sediments and
different in each valley, different stratigraphic soils that contain them. Consequently,because of
sequences that do not correlate were created in late Quaternarygeomorphic processes, not all
each valley. Because of this, a differenttemporal activitiesthatoccurredin a given region over time
archaeologicalsample is preservedin each valley. are preserved.Thus, the completeness and nature
However, it should be noted that in some areas of the stratigraphicrecordare criticallimiting fac-
stratigraphicsequences from one valley to the tors in the precision of archaeologicalinterpreta-
next are similar.This occurs because these valley tions because reconstructions of prehistoric
landscapes responded similarly over time-cut- human behavior, culture history, and the use of
ting and filling synchronously.In this case, simi- places can be no more complete than the strati-
lar temporal archaeological samples will be graphic sequence that contains the evidence. The
preserved within the valleys and comparisonsof degree to which geological processes have
human intervalley use and interaction can be affected the archaeologicalsample varies within
undertaken.However,if erosion has ever occurred and between regions and must be evaluatedon a
for a long period of time in such an area, then a case-by-case basis. Meaningfulinterpretationsof
large portion of the archaeologicalrecordwill be prehistorydepend on our recognizing and under-
missing from all of the valleys. This would create standingthe limitationsthat geological processes
a void in the archaeologicalrecord of humanuse have imposed on the archaeologicalrecord.
of riverineenvironmentsover a broadregion.This To deal with the problems of differentialsite
is indeed the case in western Iowa, where small preservation and make reasonable behavioral
streamsin the Loess Hills have had a synchronous inferences from the archaeological record,
landscape history (Bettis and Hajic 1995; Bettis researchersmust modify traditionalarchaeologi-
and Thompson 1981, 1982; Thompsonand Bettis cal investigations to include geoarchaeological
1982). Bettis has defined a major erosional studies. Geoarchaeological investigations can
unconformity,dating from 8000 to 3500 B.P., in establish the late Quaternary stratigraphic
which no deposits of this time period are pre- sequence of any region. This is crucial to archae-
served within the younger and older alluvium ological interpretations because the late
occupying the small (<4th order) stream valleys Quaternary stratigraphicframework to a large
in this area. Thus, a 4,500-year record of prehis- extent dictates the spatial and temporal structur-
toric humanutilizationof the small streamvalleys ing of the archaeologicaldatabase,and it provides
of this region has been destroyed. the frameworkneeded to determine which parts
In summary,before interpretationsconcerning of the physical record of the cultural continuum
prehistorichuman behavior between regions can are absent,which have potentiallybeen preserved,
be properlyaddressed,we must know whetherthe and how fragmentaryare the preservedportions
archaeological time period being studied is of the archaeologicalrecord. These concepts are
equally preservedwithin these regions. not unique to late Quaternaryfluvial and eolian
496 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 61, No. 3, 1996

environments,as shown here, but are true of all 1980 Willow Smoke and Dogs' Tails: Hunter-Gatherer
Settlement Systems and Archaeological Site Formation.
geomorphic systems at any time scale. Thus, the AmericanAntiquity45:4-20.
concepts presented in this paper are universally 1982 The Archaeology of Place. Journal of
applicablein archaeology. AnthropologicalArchaeology 1:5-31.
Binford,S. R., and L. R. Binford
1969 Stone Tools and Human Behavior. Scientific
Acknowledgments.Geoarchaeological research in Theodore
Roosevelt National Park was funded by Texas A & M American 220(1):70-84.
Bowers,A. W.
University, the National Park Service, and the University of 1948 A History of the Mandan and Hidatsa. Unpublished
North Dakota. Funding for geoarchaeological research in Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology,
southern Arizona was provided by the U.S. Bureau of
University of Chicago.
Reclamation,the Arizona Departmentof Transportation,and 1965 Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization.
the Wenner-GrenFoundation.Reniel Rodriquez Ramos and Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 194.
Daniel Robey translated the abstract to Spanish. Becky Butzer,K. W.
Jobling assisted with preparation of the manuscript and 1982 Archaeology as Human Ecology. Method and
Lynne O'Kelly drafted the illustrations. Art Bettis, Rolfe Theory for a Contextual Approach. Cambridge
Mandel, and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful University Press, Cambridge.
comments on this manuscript. Clayton, L., S. R. Moran,and W. B. Bickley, Jr.
1976 Stratigraphy,Origin, and Climatic Implications of
Late Quaternary Upland Silt in North Dakota. North
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