Geoarchaeological Investigations in the Upper North Fork River Valley in Southern Missouri

Article excerpt

The first geoarchaeological investigations in the upper North Fork River valley in 1993 and 1994 revealed the presence of multiple terraces and associated sediment assemblages that contain archaeological deposits. Most of the field work, however, focused on the two lowest and youngest sediment assemblages. These include an aggrading flood plain (F-1) and a low terrace (T-1). The flood plain sediment assemblage is late Holocene in age, probably less than 2,000 years old. Although not common, Late Woodland and Mississippian artifacts are deeply buried in this unit. The T-1 appears to be late Pleistocene in age. Artifacts dating from Late Paleoindian to Mississippian times are very common on T-1 landforms, but they appear to be restricted to the upper 1 m of the sediment assemblage. Alluvial deposits similar to the F-1 sediment assemblage appear to be widespread in the Ozarks, whereas chronological and sedimentological discrepancies exist between the T-1 sediment assemblage in the North Fork River valley and those located elsewhere in the Ozarks, especially north of the Ozarks Divide.

Keywords: geoarchaeology, North Fork River, Ozarks, Missouri, alluvial formations

The earliest geoarchaeological work in southern Missouri was accomplished four decades ago in the Pomme de Terre River valley under the direction of W. Raymond Wood. Wood (1976) assembled an interdisciplinary team of specialists in the fields of geology, geomorphology, palynology, paleontology, and zooarchaeology in an effort to reconstruct past environments and how humans adapted to those environments. Following his lead, many archaeologists (Ahler and Albertson 1996; Haynes 1985; Kay 1982; Lopinot et al. 1998, 2000; McMillian 1971, 1976; Price et al. 1987) have pursued interdisciplinary studies to interpret the formation of the geoarchaeological record in the Ozarks. This paper represents a preliminary investigation of a small part of the geoarchaeological record in the upper North Fork River valley.

In 1993 and 1994, an intensive archaeologi- cal survey and limited test excavations were con- ducted in the upper reaches of the North Fork River in southcentral Missouri (Ray 1995). The project was funded by two survey and planning grants to Southwest Missouri State University from the National Park Service, administered by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The project was originally designed to locate and document prehistoric archaeological sites along the main stem of the upper North Fork River be- cause less was known about the archaeology in this valley than any of the other major White River tributaries in southern Missouri. Prior to this study, there had been no systematic archaeologi- cal surveys of the bottomland portion of the up- per North Fork River valley. Reconnaissance of the project area revealed that sites along the river were being heavily impacted by natural and cultural disturbances such as cutbank erosion, construction of river accesses and campground facilities, borrow pit operations, and various farm-related activities. The goals of the project, as originally proposed, were to determine the density and distribution of prehistoric sites relative to landform types, and to assess the conditions and rates of destruction of these sites (Ray 1995:2).

During the first season of survey work, it was apparent that multiple alluvial landforms were present, representing several periods of alluvial degradation and aggradation. In addition, it was evident that only the youngest two sediment assemblages contained archaeological deposits at depths of more than 55 cm. Artifacts at sites located on higher terraces appeared to be confined primarily to the upper solum (<55 cm below surface). Careful recording and documentation of these archaeological findings in geomorphic context presented an opportunity to study late Quaternary alluvium over a long reach of the North Fork River valley. The majority of geomorphological investigations in the Ozarks have been conducted in association with archaeological projects in relatively restricted portions of the Pomme de Terre River (Brakenridge 1981; Haynes 1976, 1985), the Sac River (Hajic et al. …