Hot Rock Cooking on the Greater Edwards Plateau: Four Burned Rock Midden Sites in West Central Texas (Vol. 1 and 2)

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Hot Rock Cooking on the Greater Edwards Plateau: Four Burned Rock Midden Sites in West Central Texas (Vol. 1 and 2). By STEPHEN L. BLACK, LINDA W. ELLIS, DARRELL G. CREEL, and GLEN T GOODE. Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin, Studies in Archaeology 22. Austin, 1997. xx (Vol 1.) + ix (Vol. 2) + 797 pp., 242 figures, 137 tables, appendices A-O, references cited (ISBN I 887072-12-8).

"Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Burned Rock Middens, Fire-Cracked Rock and Hot Rock Cooking but Were Afraid to Ask" is another appropriate title for this two-volume set. Black and his Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory (TARL) colleagues have assembled a work that is pioneering, comprehensive, impeccably written, and a model for heritage management studies.

The impetus for this work comes from six burned rock midden features at four sites on the Edwards Plateau of the southern Plains excavated by the Texas Department of Transportation between 1978 and 1988. As the authors note, burned rock middens are the most common and least understood features found on the southern Plains. That they focus analytic attention on them is thus novel and refreshing. To understand these features, Black and colleagues take a multifaceted approach that includes (1) developing comparative information on hot rock cooking from around the world, as well as an understanding of the hot rock cooking environment, (2) developing a formational understanding of how middens might accumulate over thousands of years, and (3) amassing descriptive and analytical data to aid in interpreting burned rock midden function.

The volumes include initial chapters that frame the undertaking in terms of time, space, and culture history. Subsequent chapters lay theoretical and methodological foundations for understanding the archaeological phenomenon of burned rock middens and what they tell us about the past. Ellis, for example, draws from food chemistry and ethnographic accounts of cooking to overview cooking technology in general and, more specifically, hot rock cooking technology. (Any researcher interested in this topic must begin here.) In another chapter, Black considers the possible formational histories of burned rock middens, furthering the intellectual tools that enabled TARL researchers to go beyond simple description of such features. Creel provides a distributional analysis of Edwards Plateau burned midden features with respect to potentially processed resources.

Several chapters present descriptions of archaeological remains at the micro-, meso-, and macro-scales. Volume 2 includes supporting appendices on feature and artifact descriptions, macrobotanical, faunal and shell analyses, and analyses of other archaeological materials and data, including an archaeomagnetic analysis of the disturbance history of rocks from the rock element. A final appendix describes the project data bases, which are available on magnetic media.

On the basis of these various supporting analyses, Black and colleagues reach a number of important conclusions about burned rock middens. On their formation, they observe, "[m]iddens are complex, accumulative, episodic, multicausalphenomena that, characteristically, formed over long spans of time on stable land surfaces" (p. …