Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

In Much Smaller Things Forgotten: A Case for Microartifact Analysis in Cultural Resource Management

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

In Much Smaller Things Forgotten: A Case for Microartifact Analysis in Cultural Resource Management

Article excerpt

It is important for cultural resource management (CRM) professionals to routinely update their repertoire of research strategies and analytical methods in order to keep pace with advances in archaeological practice. At the same time, they must adhere to federal laws and regulations in a timely and cost-effective manner. In recent decades, microartifact analysis (MAA) has emerged as one such advance in the field, yet despite its growing use in academic archaeology, it is not routinely employed in CRM. Nonetheless, important research themes and questions may be tested and refined by including microartifacts (e. g., Peacock and Fant 2002; Price 2012; Sherwood 2001; Sherwood and Kocis 2006). Moreover, as we discuss in the case study below, they may prove useful to making sound site interpretations and eligibility determinations, particularly at sites having low artifact densities and/or having poorly defined buried occupation surfaces. For this reason, Price (2012:21) cautions that "the fact that this is not common procedure or required in state fieldwork standards demonstrates a lack of awareness of the contributions of microartifacts for making interpretations of the past." Similarly, Dunnell and Stein (1989:12) state that "microartifacts ... are complimentary, not supplementary, data and should be a routine concern of all archaeological investigations" (emphasis ours).

The primary purpose of most CRM projects is to determine the presence or absence of archaeological sites and, if present, assess whether or not they are eligible for inclusion to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). For a site to be deemed eligible, it must possess both integrity and significance. According to federal regulation 36 CFR Part 60.4, archaeological sites and other cultural properties are significant if they meet at least one of four specific criteria: (A) they are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to broad patterns of American history; (B) they are associated with the lives of persons significant in the past; (C) they embody the work of a master; or (D) they have the potential to yield data important in the prehistory or history of a region (Little et al. 2000; National Park Service 2001). In most cases, archaeological sites recommended for NRHP listing fall under Criterion D. Nominations to the NRHP should demonstrate that data from the site can address important research questions by testing hypotheses and reconstructing cultural chronologies through the use of appropriate analytical methods.

One of the most ubiquitous site types identified during Phase i surveys is the "lithic scatter" (Cain 2012). Lithic scatters frequently are determined to be ineligible at the Phase I level because of low artifact recovery, a lack of diagnostic artifacts, and a perceived lack of site integrity (Bergman and Doershuk 2003; Blakemore et al. 2008; Cain 2012). Lithic scatters, however, may be more variable than generally believed, a point demonstrated through the study of microartifacts (particularly microdebitage). The term "microdebitage" was first introduced by Fladmark (1982) to describe lithic debitage measuring less than i mm in size. Since then, a broad range of sizes have been suggested, ranging from i to 0.5 mm (Dunnell and Stein 1989; Hassan 1978; Hull 1987; Nadel 2001; Rainville 2005; Rosen 1993). For the purposes of this study, debitage measuring < 6.4 mm is considered "microdebitage." Debitage measuring >6.4 mm is considered "macrodebitage." We selected this standard because our primary goal is to evaluate how much information CRM projects can glean by examining artifacts smaller than the standard 6.4-mm-mesh sifter screen used by most CRM practitioners in the United States at this time.

As a case in point, using microartifacts to study i5MD543 allowed us to discern activity areas within the lithic scatter and identify an indeterminate buried occupation surface. MAA admittedly adds time and cost to projects and it is not always feasible to utilize MAA due to budgetary and time constraints. …

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