Waconda Lake: Prehistoric Swidden-Foragers in the Central Plains

By Lippincott, Kerry | Plains Anthropologist, November 2002 | Go to article overview

Waconda Lake: Prehistoric Swidden-Foragers in the Central Plains


Lippincott, Kerry, Plains Anthropologist


Waconda Lake: Prehistoric Swidden-Foragers in the Central Plains. By DONALD J. BLAKESLEE. Central Plains Archeology, Volume 7, Number 1. 1999. x+170 pp, 54 figures, 50 tables, references cited. $9.00 (Paper).

Central Plains Archeology is a cooperative undertaking of the Nebraska Association of Professional Archeologists and the Nebraska State Historical Society, which annually publishes collected papers and monographs related to the Central Plains (somewhat loosely defined). Previous issues have published individual articles as well as coordinated symposia that have documented recent research on historic and prehistoric subjects in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, North and South Dakota, and Montana and a Special Issue focused on a metal detector survey outside the official boundary of the Little Big Horn Battlefield in Montana. This issue is somewhat different in that it is a full scale, single author monograph of a specific time period of sites within a reservoir take line and adjacent survey areas. The time period is the Central Plains Tradition's Solomon River phase and the reservoir. is Waconda Lake in north central Kansas.

Archaeological sites on the Great Plains that have been excavated twice are relatively few, with James Howard's and W. Raymond Wood's sequential excavations at the Huff site, 32MO 11, as one of the noteworthy examples. Other, and more recent, cases certainly come to mind and the reader can probably supply others from their own subarea. Even rarer are archaeological materials that have been analyzed twice. Our book review editor has shown himself to be one of cognoscenti of this esoteric class of arcane knowledge by asking me to review this work of Don Blakeslee, since I had analyzed many of these same sites and their materials more than 25 years ago. Blakeslee has certainly added welcome new data, as well as new interpretations and has also benefited from his students' use of these materials for their term papers and theses, for which he is to be commended. Also to be commended are personnel at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who have put these materials at Blakeslee's disposal. And just to leave no one uncommended, please recall that much of the original dirt archaeology, at what was then known as Glen Elder Reservoir, was performed by several years of excavations in the 1960s by field and supervisory personnel from the University of Nebraska.

After a two page Introduction, Blakeslee presents a thorough and relevant Central Plains Environment chapter with extensive background information on what most would agree are the essential subjects, including geology, physiography, soils, hydrology, vegetation, and climate, while the single paragraph on animals is uncharacteristically abbreviated.

The second chapter documents previous archaeological fieldwork, previous archaeological interpretations, and Blakeslee's reorganizational efforts with the Waconda, Lake Middle Ceramic Period materials. Chapters four through eight provide details of Chronology, including radiocarbon dates, house duration, site duration, seasonality and length of occupation, and occupational sequences within and between sites; Architecture, of both houses and activity areas; Subsistence, including a lengthy archaeological counterpoint to the abbreviated discussion of animals mentioned above, plus an addition on the materials related to aboriginal gardening and gathering activities; Ceramics, both attribute (motif) and traditional type-variety analyses (including some impressive photographs of restored vessels and large rim sections); and Other artifacts, lithic sources, chipped stone, ground stone, bone, antler, and shell tools and ornaments. …

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