Hearth life: An experimental examination of site-formation processes acting on upland hunter-gatherer camp site assemblages on the southern High Plains

Paul N. Backhouse, Eileen Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Survey and testing results on the southern High Plains suggest that the material traces of prehistoric camp activity most likely are encountered in upland contexts. These sites are often either exposed on the modern ground surface or are only shallowly buried. Localized thermal features (such as hearths), often represented by hearthstone scatters, are the most commonly encountered prehistoric structural components recorded at such sites. A series of replicative experiments has been conducted in order to understand further the site formation processes acting on these site assemblages. The results of this limited program record a significant relationship between size, potential for loss, and horizontal displacement from the discard location for both flaked lithic and hearthstone specimens. Displacement is primarily the result of cultural processes operating on the assemblage during data collection. Morphologically, hearthstones undergo significant post-depositional structural transformation, while an experimental hearth itself remained largely structurally intact. The results highlight the complexity of interpreting cultural and natural signatures in this highly dynamic and often fragile depositional environment. The program has been successful in the development of a simple straightforward procedure that appears useful for understanding site formation processes for upland sites on the southern High Plains and may be useful for semi-arid to arid settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-194
Number of pages20
JournalPlains Anthropologist
Volume52
Issue number202
DOIs
StatePublished - 2007

Keywords

  • Caliche
  • Campsite
  • Hearth
  • Site formation processes
  • Southern High Plains

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