From the Pleistocene to the Holocene: Human Organization and Cultural Transformations in Prehistoric North America

From the Pleistocene to the Holocene: Human Organization and Cultural Transformations in Prehistoric North America

From the Pleistocene to the Holocene: Human Organization and Cultural Transformations in Prehistoric North America

From the Pleistocene to the Holocene: Human Organization and Cultural Transformations in Prehistoric North America

Synopsis

The end of the Pleistocene era brought dramatic environmental changes to small bands of humans living in North America: changes that affected subsistence, mobility, demography, technology, and social relations. The transition they made from Paleoindian (Pleistocene) to Archaic (Early Holocene) societies represents the first major cultural shift that took place solely in the Americas. This event--which manifested in ways and at times much more varied than often supposed--set the stage for the unique developments of behavioral complexity that distinguish later Native American prehistoric societies.
Using localized studies and broad regional syntheses, the contributors to this volume demonstrate the diversity of adaptations to the dynamic and changing environmental and cultural landscapes that occurred between the Pleistocene and early portion of the Holocene. The authors' research areas range from Northern Mexico to Alaska and across the continent to the American Northeast, synthesizing the copious available evidence from well-known and recent excavations.With its methodologically and geographically diverse approach, From the Pleistocene to the Holocene: Human Organization and Cultural Transformations in Prehistoric North America provides an overview of the present state of knowledge regarding this crucial transformative period in Native North America. It offers a large-scale synthesis of human adaptation, reflects the range of ideas and concepts in current archaeological theoretical approaches, and acts as a springboard for future explanations and models of prehistoric change.

Excerpt

Michael R. Bever

Ideas about the Paleoindian to Archaic transition have undergone significant changes in recent years. Once characterized as a rather sudden and continent-wide transformation affecting all aspects of human life—from subsistence, mobility, and technology to demography and social structure—the Paleoindian to Archaic transition is now seen as a more subtle and variable phenomenon. In some areas of the continent, changes do appear to have happened quite suddenly, while in others change was more gradual and multidimensional (see, e.g., Anderson and Sassaman 1996; Beck and Jones 1997; Bousman et al. 2002; Ellis et al. 1998). And in some places, such as Alaska, there appears to have been little change at all. In large part, these changing ideas about the Paleoindian to Archaic transition stem, quite simply, from a better understanding of the entities archaeologists categorize as Paleoindian on the one hand and Archaic on the other, and a fuller appreciation of the rich variation within each and the overlap between them (see, e.g., Bamforth 2002; Bonnichsen and Turnmire 1999; Byers and Ugan 2005; Cannon and Meltzer 2004; Frison 1991; Hofman and Todd 2001; Grayson and Meltzer 2002; cf. Haynes 2002; Waguespack and Surovell 2003).

But there were changes in human adaptation at the outset of the Holocene, to be sure, and studying this phenomenon remains a worthy pursuit. What, then, can an examination of the Alaskan record, which usually is seen as distinct and separate from the rest of North America, contribute to the study of the Paleoindian to Archaic transition? Perhaps most importantly, looking to Alaska allows a critical examination of the linkage between the transition— an archaeological phenomenon—and post-glacial environmental change. Because the Paleoindian to Archaic transition transpired on a continental scale, it seems reasonable to expect that the causal mechanisms were also expressed on a continental (if not global) scale as well. Indeed, Alaska experienced postglacial environmental change just as dramatic, if not more so, than other areas of the continent. Yet the early archaeological record of Alaska is distinctly different (e.g., West 1996; Ackerman 2004; Anderson 1978, 1988; Clark 1992; Dixon 1985; Dumond 1987; Schoenberg 1995).

So Alaska provides an important test case because, while the region certainly experienced major environmental change at the end of the Pleistocene, the human response that ensued followed a different trajectory from the rest of North America. With its different chronology of Early Holocene archaeological change, looking to Alaska allows the link between Pleistocene/ Holocene on the one hand and Paleoindian/Archaic on the other to be critically examined. Was terminal Pleistocene environmental change qualitatively different in Alaska, leading to a different human response? Or was the human response conditioned by something else entirely? Answering this question may help tease apart the specific causal links between environmental change and adaptive response, and thereby further an understanding of the Paleoindian to Archaic transition more broadly.

Structure of Post-Glacial Environmental Change in Alaska

Our understanding of Alaskan late Quaternary environments has increased dramatically in recent decades, due in part to innumerable lakes with welldated columns suitable for pollen, isotope, and macrobotanical analysis (e.g. . . .

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