A Late Prehistoric Period Pronghorn Hunting Camp in the Southern Black Hills, South Dakota: Site 39FA23. By KERRY LIPPINCOTT (with contributions by Mary Adair, Daniel R. Byrne, James Theler, Robert E. Warren). Special Publication of the South Dakota Archaeological Society, Number 11. Published in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation, Dakotas Area Office. 1996. xi+133 pp., dedication, figures, tables, plates, acknowledgments. $10.00 (paper, ISBN 0-917621-01-8).
The recovery of archaeological data from village sites on the main stem of the Missouri River in South and North Dakota began in the 1920s and continues today. These collections are enormous, the published and gray literature is voluminous, and the advances in knowledge about the Native American past has been rich and varied. Save for a few notable exceptions, what these "villagers" were doing and why when not at home has been largely ignored. Kerry Lippincott's treatment of a Middle Missouri tradition hunting camp in western South Dakota forms an important data point for a fuller comprehension of Plains Village life in the Middle Missouri subarea.
This volume reports 1985 South Dakota Archaeological Research Center (SDARC) investigations at site 39FA23 located along the shore of Angostura Reservoir in the southern South Dakota Black Hills. Portions of the site had been excavated in 1948-1949 by the Smithsonian Institution River Basin Surveys (SI-RBS) and reported upon by Richard P. Wheeler. The 1985 SDARC research was sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation in response to exposure of the deposit during drought induced low reservoir levels. The investigations were carried out under the overall direction of the late Robert A. Alex.
The first four chapters provide concise but thorough and necessary background information. These sections include: Environmental Setting, Cultural Chronology, and Previous Research pertaining to 39FA23 and the general project area. Environmental summaries relate primarily to the character of various natural resources available to Native American inhabitants of the Black Hills as well as the climatic challenges they faced. The most detailed of these chapters is a comprehensive account of previous research at 39FA23 including field methods, recovery strategies, stratigraphy, feature descriptions, and a summary of materials recovered.
The 1985 SDARC excavations at the site are treated in the succeeding chapter. Approximately 50 square meters of stratified cultural deposits were opened, all fill was passed through %4 inch mesh, and select soil samples were retrieved from features. The prior SI-RBS efforts indicated five closely spaced stratigraphic levels, however, inundation and wave action had removed the two uppermost layers prior to the 1985 investigation. Although all cultural levels date to the Plains Village period, the site is horizontally and vertically complex. Lippincott does a commendable job of synthesizing the site context and discussing processes which formed the deposits and continue to degrade them. Photographs and illustrations of various profiles enhance the stratigraphic discussion. The author concludes this chapter by describing seven features-one post and six probable hearths. A short chapter presenting radiocarbon dates follows. One wood charcoal sample was submitted to the University of Wisconsin and three charcoal samples were sent to Beta Analytic. With correction and standard deviation variance, all fall within the period A.D. 1000-1450 (uncalibrated) and confirm the site stratigraphy.
The next eight chapters are studies of materials recovered, four authored by Lippincott (ceramics, chipped stone, ground stone, and modified bone and shell), and one (vertebrate remains) coauthored with Daniel R. Byrne. Some of these sections are largely descriptive and others have a somewhat more analytical flavor to them.
The ceramic collection consists of 13 rim sherds and 75 body sherds. Although not strictly diagnostic, the ceramics are typical of Initial Middle Missouri variant forms. The chipped stone tool collection is composed of projectile points, various biface types, endscrapers, gravers, and retouched/utilized flakes. Over 600 pieces of debitage were found. Analysis of flaking debris raw material and reduction stages suggests most debris is a result of tool maintenance or rejuvenation, not primary manufacture or raw material quarrying. Raw material is classified by general category such as chert, chalcedony, quartzite and several others. Only two ground stone tools were found, a shaft abrader and a grinding slab, both manufactured from sandstone.
Ecofactual remains are analyzed and reported upon by Lippincott and several outside specialists. The modified bone sample is meager and composed of five split pronghorn metapodial awls and four fragments of bison scapula decorated with scored lines. A fossil Dentalium shell bead was also found. The treatment of unmodified faunal remains by Lippincott and Byrne is rather extensive. The sample is dominated by Antilocapra americana (pronghorn antelope) with bison remains a distant second. Less than 20 other species were identified, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Lippincott and Byrne document relative proportions of pronghorn and bison skeletal remains and in doing so provide a useful assessment of large mammal procurement and processing. They conclude that the pronghorn and bison were probably killed and butchered off site and that 39FA23 represents a camp or processing area. The predominance of pronghorn may indicate either a diminished local bison population or deliberate selection of the pronghorn for prime hides.
Robert E. Warren analyzed and reported on the fresh-water bivalves recovered during 1985 as well as on those from the 1940s SI-RBS investigations. He suggests all represent food residue collected from Horsehead Creek or local streams. Over 2000 gastropods were recovered and identified by James Theler. A table of taxa organized by feature is provided, but paleoclimatic interpretation is lacking. Nineteen plant taxa (over 1000 fragments) were retrieved through flotation and identified and reported by Mary Adair. Adair divides the remains into two groups-probable food items and naturally intrusive material. Most plants were available in lowland settings near the site. The presumed food items are dominated by goosefoot and cordgrass although several other taxa are present including a corn kernel fragment. Adair cautiously suggests that some of the grasses may be remnants of woven material-perhaps mats, pit linings, or light architectural remains.
The final two chapters of the report were prepared by Lippincott and are devoted to comparisons with other sites, general interpretations, and recommendations for further research. Site 39FA23 is, in Lippincott's interpretation, a stratified, short term pronghorn procurement camp left by Middle Missouri villagers on hunting expeditions to the Black Hills. The inhabitants of the site were also subsisting on bison and other faunal and floral remains. The analysis of these materials illuminates not only the subsistence of the site residents but also patterns of lithic procurement and mobility. Lippincott correctly points out that the 39FA23 data add a modest but important dimension to a richer understanding of Middle Missouri tradition adaptation. He predicts that existing deposits at the site likely will be destroyed if ever again exposed by low lake levels.
With regard to future research, Lippincott advocates a fine-grained stratigraphic re-examination of the collection and further consideration of the gastropods. I agree but suggest adding the following tasks. Although the majority of lithic materials are attributed to local sources, more specific identification of quarry areas and stone types would be interesting. A consideration of how these lithic remains compare to raw materials encountered at Missouri River villages would also be useful. Such a comparison may eventually help sort out where and how frequently Middle Missouri villagers ventured in search of food and other raw materials. A brief re-examination of the fauna from a more current taphonomic perspective would add detail. For example, consideration of the faunal elements with regard to carnivore damage, likelihood of element survival, and nutritional indices such as modified general utility index (MGUI) would more completely explain the nature and origin of the sample.
This is a well written and useful report and the above suggestions do not in any way detract from its value. Anyone actively involved in Late Prehistoric central and northern Plains subsistence and settlement research will certainly want to have a copy. Publication of this volume hopefully will encourage similar efforts. Although hunting camps are to some mundane in contrast to earthlodge village contexts, it is only through their study that a full picture of Plains Village life will ultimately emerge. Lippincott's acknowledgments close with the statement, "Back in 1976, I thought I had written up my last report for materials that someone else had excavated. Obviously, I was wrong." Kerry may once again be thinking he has written-up his last collection dug by another. I hope he is wrong.
John R. Bozell
Nebraska State Historical Society