Geoarchaeology and the Cross Timbers

By Mandel, Rolfe D. | Plains Anthropologist, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Geoarchaeology and the Cross Timbers


Mandel, Rolfe D., Plains Anthropologist


Geoarchaeology and the Cross Timbers, compiled and edited by DAVID J. CRANFORD, ELSBETH L. DOWD, and DON G WYCKOFF. Oklahoma Anthropological Society, Memoir 13, Norman, Oklahoma, 2009. ii + 104 pp.

Geoarchaeology and the Cross Timbers is a collection of papers that grew out of a University of Oklahoma graduate course in geoarchaeology taught by Don Wyckoff, Curator of Archaeology at the Sam Noble Museum and Professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of Oklahoma. This edited volume serves to increase our knowledge of Cross Timbers prehistory through geoarchaeological investigations at several locations in central Oklahoma. Given WyckofFs training and interests, it is not surprising that there is a strong emphasis on soil stratigraphy, site formation processes, and paleoenvironmental reconstruction.

The Cross Timbers is an ecoregion consisting of a mix of savanna and dense woodland that extends from southeastern Kansas across central Oklahoma to central Texas. This ecoregion is part of a larger biotic region, the Osage Savanna, forming an ecotone between the eastern woodlands of the Ozark Plateau and Ouchita Mountains and the prairies of the Southern Plains. The woodland and savanna portions of the Cross Timbers are dominated by dense stands of scrub oak, primarily blackjack and post oak, growing on sandy, upland soils. Although early explorers described the rugged landscape of the Cross Timbers as hostile and uninhabitable, archaeological investigations have demonstrated that there is long history of human occupation in the region. The Cross Timbers ecoregion has abundant knappable stone, numerous springs and, like most ecotones, a rich assemblage of plants and animals. Collectively these resources attracted many Native Americans to the region over the past 13,000 years.

The first chapter, 'Geoarchaeology along the Cross Timbers,' is by David Cranford and Don Wyckoff. They set the stage for the rest of the volume by defining the Cross Timbers, briefly describing previous archaeological studies in the region, and explaining the objectives and content of the volume. They end the chapter with a word of caution: "Readers should be reminded that the following case studies are the products of a graduate course in geoarchaeology. The contributors are not trained soil scientists or geologists and should not be expected to be such." I am glad they bring this to the reader's attention because there are problems with the soil taxonomy used by the contributors to the volume, but that aside, the graduate students did a good job of interpreting the geoarchaeology of the stream valleys and upland landscapes that were studied.

In the next chapter, Nicholas Beale and Mike McKay focus on the soil stratigraphy of Holocene valley fill along Mustang Creek, a moderate size stream in Canadian County, Oklahoma. They identify several buried soils with A horizons dating between ca. 8000 and 5600 14C yr B.P., and suggest that these soils formed during periods of "ameliorated stability" in the Cross Timbers region. This finding is significant because the warm, dry Altithermal, which spans the early and middle Holocene, generally is considered a time of landscape instability and sparse human occupation in the Southern Plains. Beale and McKay stress that the paucity of recorded Early and Middle Archaic sites in Mustang Creek valley may be a function of geomorphic processes, i.e., deep burial, and that the buried soils dating to the early and middle Holocene are likely to contain previously undiscovered Archaic cultural deposits, such as those of the Calf Creek complex.

Pumpkin Creek, located in Love County, Oklahoma, is the centerpiece of the next chapter. Abbie Bollans and Thomas Jennings present the results of gemorphological research conducted at a stream bank along the creek. Three stratigraphie sections were described, and radiocarbon dating of bulk organic matter from the deepest buried soil bracketed a period of cumulic soil development between ca. …

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