Stratigraphy and Bonebed Taphonomy at Blackwater Draw Localilty No. 1 during the Middle Holocene (Altithermal)

Article excerpt


Salvage excavations at Blackwater Draw Locality No. 1 (LA 3224) during 1956 recovered a small assemblage of bison remains and a few lithic artifacts from Archaic-age levels at the site. The assemblage was originally reported to be the remains of an Archaic kill/processing event. Reanalysis of the faunal remains and consideration of the taphonomic factors affecting the structure of the assemblage casts the reportedly cultural origin of the bone bed into doubt. Bone density and weathering patterns, the geomorphic history of the strata in which the remains were found and radiocarbon assays suggest the remains were not found in primary context. The strata in which the bones were encased were continually reworked during the Early to Middle Holocene. Eolian deflation (the primary taphonomic agent affecting the assemblage) during the Middle Holocene on the southern Plains was oftentimes severe at the site level, and can be attributed to the overarching climatic regime of the Altithermal.

Keywords: Archaic, faunal analysis, taphonomy, Altithermal

Blackwater Draw Locality No. 1, Roosevelt County, New Mexico (LA 3324), is internationally famous as the "Clovis Type Site." Throughout the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene, the site was a spring-fed pond attracting prehistoric groups to the area. Although it is known primarily as a Paleoindian site (Boldurian and Cotter 1999; Hester 1972; Sellards 1952; Stanford et al. 1986), Blackwater Draw has also produced substantial archaeological remains from the Archaic (Evans 1951; Green 1962; Hester 1972; Warnica 1966), a period less well known archaeologically on the southern Plains (see Hughes and Willey 1978; Johnson and Holliday 1986; Kelley 1964; Meltzer 1999; Shelley 1994).

The present study reports on the analysis of a suite of bison (Bison bison) remains collected by Wendorf and Dittert at Blackwater Draw during the summer of 1956 (Dittert 1957; Hester 1972). The fauna, found within the Jointed Sands stratigraphic unit, dates to the Middle Holocene, and was originally interpreted as the remains of a bison kill (Dittert 1957). Sometime thereafter, the remains disappeared (see Stanford et al. 1986:85), but were recently re-located. This presented the opportunity to reanalyze the collection, which is of more than passing interest as bison remains have been frequently reported in the Archaic levels at Blackwater Draw (Evans 1951; Evans as quoted in Hester [1972:32-33]; Green 1962; Haynes 1975, 1995; Haynes and Agogino 1966); yet, few assemblages have ever been systematically analyzed. This is in contrast to other Archaic bison assemblages, as for example, from the nearby Lubbock Lake site, which have received relatively greater attention (Johnson and Holliday 1986).

The results of this examination of the Archaic age bison remains from Blackwater Draw does not support the original straightforward interpretation of a kill (Dittert 1957), but rather shows that the taphonomic history and roles of humans versus natural agencies in the accumulation of this assemblage is far more complex. Indeed, with the evidence at hand, it is difficult to support the idea that humans played a dominant role.


Blackwater Draw Lo

cality No. 1 is located in east central New Mexico, between the cities of Portales and Clovis. The site is inset into a small perched basin that drains southward into Blackwater Draw. The draw is a tributary of the Brazos River, and is one of many such intermittent watercourses draining the Llano Estacado (or Southern High Plains), abroad, essentially flat plateau extending from the Canadian River in the north, southward to the Edwards Plateau (south of Midland, Texas) (Figure 1). Grasses (predominantly Bouteloua sp. and Buchloe dactyloides) dominate regional floral communities, with sparse trees found along drainages. The climate is semiarid, receiving 40-50 cm of precipitation per year (Holliday 1995; Laurenroth et al. …