Paleoindian Geoarchaeology of the Southern High Plains

Article excerpt

Paleoindian Geoarchaeology of the Southern High Plains. By VANCE T. HOLLIDAY. University of Texas Press, Austin. 1997. xx + 312 pp., 31 black-and-white photographs, 71 maps and line drawings, 33 tables, 2 appendices, references cited, index. $50.00 (cloth, ISBN 0-292-731094), $24.95 (paper, ISBN 0-292-73114-0). Foreword by Thomas R. Hester. Dedicated to C. Vance Haynes, Jr.

In Paleoindian Geoarchaeology of the Southern High Plains, Vance T. Holliday revisits the subject matter that has occupied most of his professional life: the Late Quaternary geomorphology, stratigraphy, and geoarchaeology of the southern High Plains (also known as the Llano Estacado) of northwestern Texas and eastern New Mexico, a division of the Great Plains of the central United States. His current offering focuses on the geoarchaeology of Paleoindian sites throughout this region. As Holliday observes, "the discoveries at the Folsom site in New Mexico from 1926-1928 clearly established human antiquity in the New World to late Pleistocene times...Some of the best-known and most intensively studied early sites in the Western Hemisphere are on the open grasslands of the midcontinent, and they have provided archaeologists with many presently held concepts-and biases-regarding Paleoindian typologies, chronologies, and subsistence... ."

This book encompasses five chapters and two appendices. Chapter 1 presents a rationale for summarizing the record of Paleoindian studies in the southern High Plains (with reference to contiguous areas), followed by an extremely brief (less than five pages) description of the region's environmental and geological contexts. Available lithic resources for tool manufacture are also discussed (but are treated more expansively in Appendix 2). Holliday then addresses the origin and complexity of terminology applied to early artifactual styles and cultures in this region. Even the word Paleoindian (originally "Paleo-Indian," a form still in limited use) is somewhat ambiguous, at once implying: 1) an artifactual assemblage characterized by "a variety of distinctive, lanceolate, unnotched projectile points," sometimes associated with the remains of extinct megafauna; 2) the widely, but perhaps incorrectly presumed "big-game hunting" lifeways of the peoples employing these artifacts; and 3) the time interval from the terminal Pleistocene Epoch through the early Holocene Epoch (nominally 9200-6000 B.C.) during which the artifacts were made and initially used.

To this list of often undifferentiated applications of the term Paleoindian may be added a popular conception of the "Paleoindian stage" as a time of "ameliorated climate" (stable, cool, and wet), sustaining perennial streams and lush prairies filled with giant herbivores. This image is virtually synonymous with the word Paleoindian throughout the region. In his present book, Holliday does little to dispel this overly simplistic view (see especially Chapter 5), but he has elsewhere noted that environmental conditions were far more dynamic. The long Paleoindian cultural period encompassed the final phase of one of the most dramatic environmental transitions in world history: from terminal Pleistocene late-glacial conditions to the interglacial Holocene. The full archaeological significance of this marked change is only now being defined.

At the end of Chapter 1, Holliday describes his methodology for gathering much of the sitespecific data composing the majority of this book (Chapter 3 and Appendix 1 ). These data were collected during Holliday's two decades of dedicated field investigations in the region, refining and enlarging upon the observations of many archaeological researchers from the 1920s to the present, and upon the work of a group of farsighted geologists and paleontologists of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Holliday's data have been published previously, but are presented here in a readily accessible form.

The history of regional studies of Paleoindian sites is the subject of Chapter 2. …