Hunter-Gatherer Interaction and Alliance Formation: Dalton and the Cult of the Long Blade

Article excerpt


Patterns of social interaction among hunter-gatherers during the Pleistocene/Holocene transition in North America have received considerable attention in recent archaeological studies. One hypothesis is that territory size decreased as band packing increased when bands, particularly those occupying favored environments, fissioned and multiplied and target game animals changed. One result of this process should be archaeological evidence of intensified interaction among neighboring bands. We investigate this model through the identification and analysis of ceremonial exchange ofa specific artifact-the large Sloan type spear point-found in Dalton contexts in the Central Mississippi Valley. Our findings support the contention that alliance networks were established at this time (10,500-10,000 BP) in order to mitigate the effects of resource risk and potential interband discord Keywords: ceremonial exchange, Dalton horizon, hunter-gatherers, Sloan points, Central Miss, si Valley prehistory

Brian Hayden (1982) notes that the study of social interaction is one of the most neglected, yet most important, subjects in archaeology:

Two things we clear at pres. First, if arch eology is to have a useful model of interaction, archaeologists are probably going to have to develop it themselves. Secondly, we are dealing with a fundamental and pervasive aspect of cultural organization which is much more complex than most archaeologists are willing to admit.. We must recognize that there are a range of interaction types, including contacts between communities of different types, and contacts which take place for different reasons (1982:109).

Hayden's paper, and the application of his model to explain diachronic changes in Paleoimdian and Archaic artifact styles, has stimulated considerable debate and further study within the archaeological community. Intensive research into methodological and theoretical issues concerning interaction and exchange mechanisms, particularly in regard to prehistoric hunter-gatherers in North America, has been reported in a number of subsequent studies (Bender 1985; Meltzer 1985, 1989; Ellis 1989; Tankersley 1991; Anderson 1995).

These studies clearly indicate that knowledge of interaction is implicit even in the most basic levels of archaeological inquiry. For example, Joffre Coe's (1964) classic excavations at deeply stratified Early Holocene deposits in the Carolina Piedmont revealed that successive occupations were characterized by specific projectile point styles. The recognition that particular cultures could be isolated by their associated points led to the development of base-line regional chronologies and the delineation of point style "horizons" across broad geographical areas (Tuck 1974; Walthall 1980). Since even our most basic temporal-spatial studies of culture change are based on the diffusion and areal extent of artifact styles, the need to know how and why these styles spread and changed through time is paramount

That exchange on various levels and scales took place during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition is certain (Anderson 1995), but the identification of exchange systems and the construction of convincing explicative models for specific data sets require much additional research In this paper we recognize the significance of Hayden's position concerning the central place of interaction studies in archaeology and offer a case study which reduces the complexity of this subject to an analytically tractable form. This study is based on our research into a specific type of interactionceremonial exchange-and its implications for furthering our understanding of one regional hunter-gatherer interaction network.


Archaeological study of prehistoric huntergatherers is often restricted to the analysis of lithic tools, their temporal contexts, and their spatial patterning at individual sites or across the landscape. …