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First published inn PHYS.org

by  University of South Florida

Geoscientists discover Ancestral Puebloans survived from ice melt in New Mexico lava tubes
USF geosciences professor Bogdan Onac is pictured with ice deposit in New Mexico. Credit: University of South Florida

For more than 10,000 years, the people who lived on the arid landscape of modern-day western New Mexico were renowned for their complex societies, unique architecture and early economic and political systems. But surviving in what Spanish explorers would later name El Malpais, or the “bad lands,” required ingenuity now being explained for the first time by an international geosciences team led by the University of South Florida.

Exploring an ice-laden lava tube of the El Malpais National Monument and using precisely radiocarbon- dated charcoal found preserved deep in an ice deposit in a lava tube, USF geosciences Professor Bogdan Onac and his team discovered that Ancestral Puebloans survived devastating droughts by traveling deep into the caves to melt ancient ice as a water resource.

Dating back as far as AD 150 to 950, the water gatherers left behind charred material in the cave indicating they started small fires to melt the ice to collect as drinking water or perhaps for religious rituals. Working in collaboration with colleagues from the National Park Service, the University of Minnesota and a research institute from Romania, the team published its discovery in Scientific Reports.

The droughts are believed to have influenced settlement and subsistence strategies, agricultural intensification, demographic trends and migration of the complex Ancestral Puebloan societies that once inhabited the American Southwest. Researchers claim the discovery from ice deposits presents “unambiguous evidence” of five drought events that impacted Ancestral Puebloan society during those centuries.

“This discovery sheds light on one of the many human-environment interactions in the Southwest at a time when climate change forced people to find water resources in unexpected places,” Onac said, noting that the geological conditions that supported the discovery are now threatened by modern climate change.

“The melting cave ice under current climate conditions is both uncovering and threatening a fragile source of paleoenvironmental and archaeological evidence,” he added.

Geoscientists discover Ancestral Puebloans survived from ice melt in New Mexico lava tubes
Cibola Gray Ware discovered at El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico. Credit: University of South Florida

Onac specializes in exploring the depths of caves around the world where ice and other geological formations and features provide a window to past sea level and climate conditions and help add important context to today’s climate challenges.

Their study focused on a single lava tube amid a 40-mile swatch of treacherous ancient lava flows that host numerous lava tubes, many with significant ice deposits. While archaeologists have suspected that some of the surface trails crisscrossing the lava flows were left by ancient inhabitants searching for water, the research team said their work is the earliest, directly dated proof of water harvesting within the lava tubes of the Southwest.

The study characterizes five drought periods over an 800-year period during which Ancestral Puebloans accessed the cave, whose entrance sits more than 2,200 meters above sea level and has been surveyed at a length of 171 meters long and about 14 meters in depth. The cave contains an ice block that appears to be a remnant of a much larger ice deposit that once filled most of the cave’s deepest section. For safety and conservation reasons, the National Park Service is identifying the site only as Cave 29.

In years with normal temperatures, the melting of seasonal ice near cave entrances would leave temporary shallow pools of water that would have been accessible to the Ancestral Puebloans. But when the ice was absent or retreated in warmer and dryer periods, the researchers documented evidence showing that the Ancestral Puebloans repeatedly worked their way to the back of the cave to light small fires to melt the ice block and capture the water.

They left behind charcoal and ash deposits, as well as a Cibola Gray Ware pottery shard that researchers found as they harvested a core of ancient ice from the block. The team believes the Ancestral Puebloans were able to manage smoke within the cave with its natural air circulation system by keeping the fires small.

The discovery was an unexpected one, Onac said. The team’s original goal in its journey into the lava tube was to gather samples to reconstruct the paleoclimate using ice deposits, which are slowly but steadily melting.

“I have entered many lava tubes, but this one was special because of the amount of charcoal present on the floor in the deeper part of the cave,” he said. “I thought it was an interesting topic, but only once we found charcoal and soot in the ice core that the idea to connect the use of ice as a waterresource came to my mind.”

Unfortunately, researchers are now racing against the clock as modern climate conditions are causing the cave ice to melt, resulting in the loss of ancient climate data. Onac said he recently received support from the National Science Foundation to continue the research in the lava tubes before the geological evidence disappears.

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On this day ten years ago…
via Miwok and Paiutes-Salt People

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On this day ten years ago..

via Ancient Rock Piles Reveal Early American Cuisine

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Archaeologist sifting for artifacts

Topic: More on ancient Native American Villages in Wyoming

13 Ancient Villages Discovered in Wyoming Mountains May Redraw Map of Tribal Migrations

High in the alpine forests of northwestern Wyoming, archaeologists have discovered more than a dozen villages dating back over 2,000 years, a find that could alter our understanding of the scope of human habitation in the ancient West, as well as the histories and migrations of the people who lived there.

And although the discovery of these sites was in many ways unexpected, the scientists who found them actually predicted they would be there.

An archaeologist screens for artifacts at the site of a prehistoric village in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. [Image (C) Matthew Stirn]
The villages were found across more than 300 square kilometers in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, at elevations over 3,200 meters, making some of them the highest prehistoric sites ever found in Wyoming — and possibly the oldest high-altitude settlements found anywhere in North America.
The sites are replete with artifacts like groundstones, projectile points, and pottery, plus pipes and other wares carved out of soapstone. They also feature several — sometimes as many as 70 — stone-lined circular platforms hewn out of the mountain slopes: the foundations of wooden “superstructures” thought to have been lodges.

Judging by the settlements’ lofty location, along with their architectural features and artifacts, archaeologists believe they were built by early Numic-speaking peoples, the mountain-dwelling ancestors of the diverse but related tribes that today include the Comanche, Ute, Shoshone and Northern Paiute.

“In archaeological research, mountains have generally been overlooked as fringes, boundaries, and marginal landscapes,” said Matthew Stirn of the University of Sheffield in an interview. He announced the discovery in a recent study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“When we came across [these] villages in the Winds, it proved that not only did family groups live for long periods of time in the mountains, it also showed that this practice occurred rather consistently for several thousand years throughout prehistory.”

As important as the newly found villages are, they were not the first to be discovered in the Wind River Range, Stirn noted.

In 2006, Dr. Richard Adams of Colorado State University and his team found a prehistoric village at 3,500 meters above sea level, with evidence of more than 65 residential structures.

Dubbed High Rise Village, the site featured artifacts and traces of lodges dating over at least 2,500 continuous years, opening up a new frontier of high-altitude archaeology in the intermountain West.

Stirn was part of the team that found High Rise Village, and in the following two years he and Adams, along with Bryon Schroeder of Montana State University, discovered five more villages in the mountain range that dated to around the same era.

“Much to our surprise, the high elevations of the Winds were more dense archaeologically than their surrounding lowlands,” Stirn said.

But perhaps more importantly, he added, “it was immediately apparent that the sites were situated in a distinct pattern.”

Specifically, he said, all of the villages were located in or near stands of whitebark pine trees, which are prolific producers of nutritious nuts. The lodge sites also contained an unusual abundance of tools, like groundstones, that have typically been associated with processing foods like pine nuts.

So Stirn set out to develop a model to predict the location of more, similar villages. He first determined all of the main traits that the newfound villages had in common — namely, that they were positioned on south-facing, sunny slopes near whitebark pine stands above 3,200 meters in elevation.

Then, using Landsat satellite imagery, Stirn and his colleagues identified whitebark pine stands in the northern Winds that best fit their model’s description. And in 2010, with the backing of the Explorer’s Club and the Abernethey Research Foundation, they lit out to investigate the sites predicted to be mostly likely to host prehistoric settlements.

In the end, each of the 13 areas they surveyed revealed traces of ancient villages — the remains of lodges, soapstone relics, and nut-milling tools associated with the lifeways of ancient Numic-speaking peoples.

But these sites posed a new quandary: Judging by the artifacts, the newly found villages appear to date to around the heyday of High Rise Village — about 2,000 to 2,500 years ago. But this is centuries older than — and the sites are thousands of kilometers away from — the only other Numic mountain villages known to exist, in Nevada and California.

Those sites farther West, first discovered in the 1980s, betrayed the same influences of Numic culture — including what Stirn describes as “the exact same tool kits” found in Wind River for processing pine nuts and other foods.

Considering that the Numic family of languages extends from Southern California up to Wyoming and Montana, it was conjectured at the time that the culture may have originated in these Southwestern mountains and migrated East.

But the California and Nevada villages were only around 1,400 years old, some 600 to 1,100 years younger than the sites in the Wind River Range.

“If the Numic spread originated in California and moved to Wyoming, how come the Wyoming sites are older than those in California?” Stirn asked.

“It has since been proposed … that the discovery of earlier villages in Wyoming provide evidence that the Numic spread might have occurred in the opposite direction.”

It could be, in other words, that mountain villages throughout the West could offer what Stirn calls “an archaeological roadmap” that plots the spread of Numic language.

“More corroborating evidence would be necessary to prove this, but for the time being, it is a very thought provoking possibility,” he said.

Excavation of the Wind River villages will help fill in the great missing gaps in the map of Numic history. For now, Stirn said, their discovery reveals the tremendous, and largely overlooked, potential of high-altitude archaeology to rewrite entire chapters of Western American history.

“Since 2006, we have surveyed roughly 800 miles and recorded well over a thousand sites and artifacts above 10,500 feet in Wyoming,” he said.

“This is very exciting, as it suggests that the mountains played an integral role in prehistory and have been frequented by humans consistently for thousands of years.”

Original article:
western digs.org

By Blake de Pastino Nov 05,2013

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Projectile points found at the sites of prehistoric lodges are indicative of Numic-speaking groups, the ancestors of modern Ute, Comanche and Paiute bands, archaeologists say. (Courtesy Matthew Stirn)

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Fragments of a bowl made from soapstone, or steatite, are another sign of Numic culture. (Courtesy Matthew Stirn)

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High Rise Village, a prehistoric Native American hamlet more than 10,000 feet up into the Wind River Range in northwestern Wyoming. The Winds, as the mountains are known, are not an easy place to collect data. Researchers have trekked across glaciers and scaled cliffs in their search for new villages, contending with “everything from flash flooding to forest fires to bear encounters,” says Matthew Stirn, a University of Sheffield-Britain graduate student who has helped locate many villages.
(Photo: None None)

Topic Early Native American villages

Archaeologists uncover secrets of high-altitude Wyoming villages where Native Americans would go in summer to hunt and collect pine nuts for winter.

To an outsider, the Wind River Range of Wyoming does not seem a hospitable place. Glaciers dot the peaks, and snow can fall even in August. But in the thin air above 10,000 feet, archaeologists have discovered a host of sky-high prehistoric villages, including one that may be the oldest mountain settlement in North America.

Researchers will report 13 new Wind River villages in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Archaeological Science, bringing the total number to 19. Such high-altitude settlements are extremely rare in North America, and scientists plan to study plant remains from the villages that may help them understand the prehistoric peoples who moved to the roof of the world.

“To find honest-to-God villages up there … was astounding,” says Colorado State University archaeologist Richard Adams, whose team identified the first one. “They’re on the crest of the continent. Who’d have thunk it? Nobody expected this.”

The sheer number of sites is “shocking,” says archaeologist David Hurst Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who is not involved in the Wind River work. “And this (research) is … expensive, it’s hard, and it’s a killer on the knees.”

The Winds, as the mountains are known, are not an easy place to collect data. Researchers have trekked across glaciers and scaled cliffs in their search for new villages, contending with “everything from flash flooding to forest fires to bear encounters,” says Matthew Stirn, a University of Sheffield-Britain graduate student who has helped locate many villages. “It’s as close to extreme archaeology as you can get.”

The job has gotten easier, thanks to a formula Stirn developed to predict where villages are likely to be, based on factors such as altitude and the presence of whitebark pine, a tree that produces large quantities of fatty nuts. Stirn’s formula guided the team to the newly reported villages, which contained the vestiges of ancient lodges and everyday objects such as grinding stones.

The artifacts in the new villages are much like those at the largest Winds village, discovered several years before the most recent batch. Christened “High Rise,” it sprawls down a mountainside so steep that Adams compares it to an intermediate ski run. At 26 acres, it’s the biggest alpine village in North America and was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Amid the ruins of the 60-odd lodges at the site lie sewing tools,stone arrowheads and body paint. A piece of pottery made from local clay and a fragment of bowl made from local stone mean that women were probably crafting objects up at High Rise, Adams says.

All those remnants — many also found at other villages — suggest these weren’t just short-term hunting camps. Instead they were high-altitude resorts where entire families lived for months at a time, hunting and collecting pine nuts for the winter. The villages are awash in stone food-grinding tools, which could have been used to extract nuts from the pine cones. People probably wouldn’t have left those valuable tools at the high villages unless they planned to return.

“There seems to be a predictable draw that brings people back to the same place year after year,” says archaeologist Laura Scheiber of Indiana University, who excavates other high-altitude sites. “Children are learning from their parents and grandparents, ‘This is the place we go at this time of year.'”

The age of the oldest villages is unknown, but it’s clear that some were built at least 2,700 years ago, and High Rise may be 4,000 years old, Adams says. That would make it the oldest alpine village in North America. There’s evidence that people lived at High Rise on and off for at least 2,000 years running. The Sheepeater Shoshone, the Native American people who built the Winds villages, used them until they were confined to reservations.

Researchers puzzle over why prehistoric people headed for the hills in the first place. Perhaps changes in climate made food scarcer in the lowlands, or perhaps immigrants drove people off their traditional territory. Nor do scientists know whether the Wind River people came up with the idea of high-mountain settlements on their own or heard about it from others. But Wind River has helped put to rest the old stereotype that prehistoric peoples stuck to the lowlands.

The range “was the place to be in the summer. … It is just exhilarating to be there, and the living was easier than in the basin,” Adams says. “I think they were up there having fun.”

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A modern-day replica of a “wickiup,” the branch-and-bark structures that High Rise residents built as homes.(Photo: Handout)

Original article:
USA today

By Traci Watson, Special for USA TODAY 9:27 a.m. EDT October 20, 2013

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Mike Bradford and Bob Thompson screened soil from an 8,000 year-old campsite along the Minnesota river.

Topic Ancient campsight

Animal bones, tools offer clues to life by the Minnesota River 8,000 years ago.

Eight thousand years ago, Minnesota looked like another world.

Prairie grasses covered the land, with trees sparse except in the extreme northeast. The landscape was extremely dry, with lakes reduced to waterholes and rivers withered to streams. Small groups of native people roamed the wild, hunting bison that were 50 percent larger than the species we know today. They camped in the river bottoms, close to water, fish and game.

Now archaeologists are getting a priceless peek at that ancient past, known as the Archaic Period, because of a rare campsite discovered along the Minnesota River in Chanhassen during a routine survey in preparation for bridge work.

“Basically, it’s like a time capsule — a very well-preserved record left pretty much intact of where it was deposited,” said archaeologist Frank Florin, principal investigator at the site, whose precise location officials are not revealing to keep away vandals and treasure hunters. “It’s exciting to know that you’re looking at things as they were 8,000 years ago, essentially.”

Florin found the site near the junction of Hwy. 101 and County Road 61, also known as Flying Cloud Drive.

Starting next year, the area will be excavated as part of a $54 million replacement of the Hwy. 101 bridge linking Carver County and Shakopee. Federal rules require an archaeological survey when such a project is underway to determine if anything of historic value would be disturbed.

The artifacts were buried 10 to 12 feet below the ground in an area mostly covered by peat, cattails and swamp.

Campsites in the river valley were occupied in a drier period of history, said Minnesota state archaeologist Scott Anfinson, probably by small groups of no more than 20 people. Over the centuries, the climate became wetter, river bluffs eroded and the campsites were covered with silt and soil and filled in as wetlands.

That’s why ancient sites are so rare, he said.

“Wet environments are very difficult to find, and very difficult to dig, but they’re very rewarding because of what you can get out of them,” Anfinson said.

The depth and lack of oxygen preserves not only stones and tools, but also organic material such as plants that can be analyzed and dated.

“We can actually say, ‘This spearhead was made by these people who lived at exactly this time,’ so we can get a huge amount of information,” he said.

Florin said some of the stones used as tools appear to have come from North Dakota or western Wisconsin, suggesting that the native people traveled some distance in their hunting or that they interacted and traded with other groups.

Craig Johnson, archaeologist for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said part of the ancient campsite will be destroyed to install deep footings for new bridge piers next year, so a fall excavation is planned to retrieve additional artifacts that otherwise would be lost.

“We don’t have more than about a half a dozen of these archaeological sites from this period that are known in the Minnesota River Valley, so this is pretty significant,” he said.

Painstaking work

In the initial survey work that found evidence of the encampment, Florin and a crew used soil core augers — similar to post-hole diggers with extensions — to remove samples of dirt, clay and mud and to screen them for artifacts. The team hand-drilled about 600 holes in the fall of 2012 and this spring.

They found artifacts in several spots along a 400-yard stretch that includes both public right of way and private land. There is at least one buried campsite, Florin said, and perhaps remnants of others.

Florin, a private archaeologist and owner of Florin Cultural Resource Services LLC, was hired by Carver County to do the initial survey. His final report is nearing conclusion. The budget for field work and analysis was about $100,000.

The native people buried their dead high on the river bluffs, but camped on the banks.

“We found evidence for making stone tools, butchering and processing animals, and we found one fire hearth,” Florin said. The crew also unearthed spear-point fragments, hide-scraping tools, and animal remains that included turtles, fish and bison.

“Since we know so little about this time period, even small campsites are very important for what they tell us about people’s diet, what their tools were and how they lived,” Florin said.

A bigger dig lies ahead

Carver County road officials are now working with the archaeologists to determine the location, scope and budget for this fall’s larger excavation.

Florin said that because of the expense of draining part of a wetland, the area to be dug will need to be relatively modest in size — perhaps about 300 square feet in total.

The excavation will essentially be a rescue operation to retrieve materials from what seems to be the area’s richest concentration of artifacts, Johnson said. The findings will be numbered, cataloged, photographed and analyzed with a written report, he said, and probably archived at the Minnesota Historical Society.

As part of the archaeological work, Florin said he has communicated with the nearest Indian tribe, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

A spokeswoman for the tribe said it “did not feel comfortable addressing the artifacts, because they could go back as far as 8,000 years and could potentially be associated with a number of tribal communities.”

Florin said there’s no possibility that the area was a cemetery — a designation that would have triggered a dramatically different response by both archaeologists and developers, as well as far more input from contemporary tribes. “We were digging on campsites, not mounds, and we found animal bones, not human bones,” Florin said.

The discovery is a reminder that native people have lived in Minnesota at least since the glaciers retreated 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, Florin said.

“There were prior occupants, and part of what archaeology does is bring that information and knowledge to the present day,” he said.

Original Article:

star tribune.com
Article by: TOM MEERSMAN , Star Tribune
July 29, 2013

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Spear point tip and grater found at archaeological site at construction site on the Minnesota River.
Photo courtesy of Fred Florin

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