Archaeologists in North America have long recognized the importance of deep caves. Caves were used wherever they occur by both Native Americans and EuroAmericans, especially in the karst regions of eastern North America. The unique conditions of cave environments have often resulted in remarkably preserved prehistoric archaeological deposits. With the exception of a few pioneer research projects, however, such as those at Mammoth and Salts Caves (Watson 1969, 1974), limited systematic work has been conducted in association with the "dark zones" of caves, beyond the reach of natural light. This lack of study in such obviously important contexts is due at least in part to the methodological and technical difficulties encountered in caves. Over the years, a few groups of archaeologists and members of the caving community have addressed the problems of these complex and unique depositional environments. These problems include simple access, lighting, material and equipment transport, exploration and research logistics, accurate mapping and photo documentation, conservation of unique perishable materials, and integration of cave findings with wider regional data.
This collection of articles exemplifies some of the methods and interpretive frameworks developed to address the unique problems posed in cave archaeology. Practical methods and solutions to the challenges of cave environments are stressed almost as much as the archaeological record encountered underground. The papers are intended to represent a cross-section of contemporary research on prehistoric and historic archaeological materials recovered in deep caves in the Eastern Woodlands.
The first paper, by Patty Jo Watson, addresses theory in the context of cave archaeology and whether a unique agenda is needed to approach archaeology in the dark zone. Sarah Sherwood and Paul Goldberg next offer a geoarchaeological framework for comprehending the distinctive depositional microenvironments found in cave entrances and deep within cave systems; they stress the importance of understanding formation processes to provide a context for the archaeological record found in caves. Several case studies of cave research follow. Renee Walker, Kandance Detwiler, Scott Meeks, and Boyce Driskell examine Late Paleoindian subsistence data coming from remarkable preservation contexts at Dust Cave in Alabama. Jay Franklin addresses lithic technology in 3rd Unnamed Cave, Tennessee, where pristine Archaic cultural deposits are preserved on the surface in the deep cave environment. Mortuary use of caves is addressed by Clifford Boyd, Donna Boyd, Michael Barber, and David Hubbard in a study of southwest Virginia's burial caves. They review data on skeletal biology and offer case studies illustrating legal issues in cave protection. Jan Simek and Alan Cressler discuss their studies of prehistoric dark zone cave art in the Southeast emphasizing the technical aspects of recording these fragile resources. …