Native American Landscapes of St. Catherines Island, Georgia

By Hendryx, Greg S. | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Native American Landscapes of St. Catherines Island, Georgia


Hendryx, Greg S., Southeastern Archaeology


Native American Landscapes of St. Catherines Island, Georgia. DAVID HURST THOMAS. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, No. 88, New York, 2008. xiii + 1,184 pp., figs., tables, appendices, biblio. $100.00 (softbound, three parts), ISSN 0065-9452.

Reviewed by Greg S. Hendryx

St. Catherines Island is one of Georgia's many barrier islands. Measuring some 14,000 acres and containing approximately 220 documented archaeological sites, this island has been a subject of archaeological inquiry since the nineteenth century, gaining the attention of such antiquarians as C. C. Jones Jr. and C. B. Moore. The twentieth century brought Lewis Larson, John Griffin, and Joseph Caldwell to the island, and then in 1974, the American Museum of Natural History began an intensive and focused investigation under the charge of David Hurst Thomas. This three- volume set provides a thorough synthesis of Thomas's long-term endeavors. Collaborating with 25 colleagues who contributed to this publication, Thomas offers a holistic overview with 35 chapters that address a wide range of topics. Given the size of the book and the breadth of its scope, it is best to discuss it in terms of its labeled volumes. Volume 1 presents The Theoretical Framework, volume 2 offers The Data, and volume 3 concludes with Synthesis and Implications.

The first volume commences with a summary of archaeological history on the island (chapter 1) followed by an overview of the native inhabitants, known as the "Guale People" (chapter 2). It is in the second chapter that Thomas outlines the four guiding questions that steered this massive research undertaking. "1. How and why did the human landscape (settlement patterns and land use) change through time? 2. To what extent were subsistence and settlement patterns shaped by human population increase, intensification, and competition for resources? 3. What factors can account for the emergence of social inequahty in Georgia's Sea Islands? 4. Can systematically collected archaeological evidence resolve the conflicting ethnohistoric interpretations of the aboriginal Georgia coast (the so-called Guale problem)?"

Chapters 3-5 examine the island's geological formation over the past five millennia, address the topic of oscillating sea levels (especially as it relates to resource exploitation), and outline the island's natural history. Typified by the availability of abundant aquatic, marine, and terrestrial resources, the environmental variability along the barrier islands offered an optimal setting with which to forage, a topic that is thoroughly addressed over the course of chapters 6-11. These chapters evaluate various models of optimal foraging, including: diet-breadth (prey choice), patch choice, and central place foraging. Guided by the general question "which foods should an efficient forager harvest and which should be overlooked?" Thomas considers modern analogies, ethnohistoric accounts, and experimental archaeology to reconstruct the optimal strategy for carrying out the most nutritional, energy-driven manner of food collection and preparation. The experimental archaeological study was fascinating and labor and time intensive. Essentially, Thomas's team performed numerous foraging tasks under calculated time and environmental parameters, such as the collection of various shellfish and the capture of fish through a combination of techniques, including netting, spearing, trot lining, and the use of weirs. In addition to documenting collection times, the nutritional value was considered and presented as a common denominator in terms of kcal/hr. The twelfth and final chapter of the first series presents the "archaeological research design" that sets the stage for the ensuing books.

Volume 2 includes chapters 13 through 28 and represents the largest of the three-volume collection. Thomas and colleagues did a commendable job outlining and presenting the massive amounts of information that support their conclusions, and have done so in a manner that offers an easy read, despite the copious amount of data. …

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Native American Landscapes of St. Catherines Island, Georgia
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