Playa Archaeology on the Southern High Plains of Texas: A Spatial Analysis of Hunter-Gatherer Occupations at Tahoka-Walker (41LY53)

Article excerpt

Tahoka-Walker (41LYS3) is a multi-component Paleoindian and Late Archaic campsite located along the margins of a playa near the town of Tahoka on the Southern High Plains of Texas. Three discrete concentrations of artifacts observed while mapping the surface distribution of artifacts suggest separate activity areas. A spatial analysis of the distribution of lithic artifacts by their raw material source and minimum analytical nodule is undertaken to determine if a separate Paleoindian and Late Archaic occupation could be distinguished. In addition, minimum analytical nodules are used to deduce the technological planning strategies evident at Tahoka-Walker. A spatial analysis of hearthstones and bone scrap are used to compare with the distribution of lithic artifact clusters. Spatial analysis confirms the presence of three distinct areas that coincide with the three concentrations noted in the field. One is an activity area associated with a Paleoindian occupation, but Late Archaic activities overlap the Paleoindian activity area in extent, and cannot be distinguished spatially. Information recovered from the piece-point plotted surface artifacts holds great potential for spatial analysis, but investigating the spatial structure of the site is critical for determining what types of cultural inferences can be made about the site.

Keywords: southern High Plains, Paleoindian, Late Archaic, Minimum Analytical Nodule Analysis, surface archaeology

Surface localities defined by scatters of lithics and hearthstones are the most common type of site found in the archaeological record (Kvamme 1996). Often these sites are a mixture of unrelated occupations that frequently are ignored for their research value due to the onerous task of separating out artifacts left by different hunter-gatherer groups for analysis and interpretation. Piece-point plotting surface artifacts, however, may reveal discrete spatially segregated occupations allowing investigators to examine artifacts separately for interdependent occupations to provide interpretations of the past. In addition, minimum analytical nodule analysis (Larson 1994) and refitting (Bleed 2004) are lithic analytical techniques that help reveal the spatial structure of surface localities. Spatial analytical techniques were used for investigating Paleoindian and Late Archaic occupations exposed on the surface at the Tahoka-Walker site (41LY53). Paleoindian sites are rare on the southern High Plains surface, with few excavated and most known only from exposed materials. Efforts at Tahoka-Walker are among the first in the region to augment context and enhance the interpretive value of surface exposures.

Tahoka-Walker is located 2 km south of the town of Tahoka on the eastern side of the southern High Plains in Lynn County, Texas (Figure 1). The site is situated on the High Plains surface along the edge of a playa basin. Paleoindian sites on the High Plains surface generally occur within 1 km of a playa, and the current playa is 0.92 km south of the site. Owned by the city of Tahoka, areas to the east and south of the site have been converted into water reclamation basins. The site lies on a roughly even plain except the southern portion has a more undulating surface due to natural topography and construction of water reclamation basins. Vegetation at the site primarily is short-grass with sporadic mesquite trees (Figure 2).

A local resident of Tahoka discovered the remains of a Paleoindian and Late Archaic campsite exposed on the surface from erosion. Mr. Walker reported the site to the Museum of Texas Tech University and turned over his remaining collection (Table 1). Because Paleoindian sites are rare in intact upland settings on the southern High Plains (Johnson and Holliday 2004), a detailed investigation of the site was warranted.

Periodic field investigations took place in 2003, 2004, and 2006 totaling 12 days of fieldwork (Hurst et al. 2008). The exploration of hunter-gatherer lifeways at Tahoka-Walker was based on three research objectives: 1) to determine if intact subsurface deposits are present through shovel tests and coring; 2) to establish from the spatial analysis of surface data if separate prehistoric occupations are identifiable; and 3) to delineate land use strategies of past Paleoindian groups and other occupants of the site determined from an examination of raw material use and technological organization. …