Monday, February 6, 2012

Faunal Remains: The Plains

Hill, Matthew E. Jr.
2007 A Moveable Feast: Variation in Faunal Resource Use among Central and Western North American Paleoindian Sites. American Antiquity 72: 417-438.

     This article examines the variation seen in Paleoindian diets in the Great Plains. Specifically, it looks at how long-term environmental changes and regional habitat differences affect Paleoindian prey selection. This study compiles faunal information from 60 Paleoindian sites, considering only the remains that showed explicit evidence of human use. Bison remains are the most common, even when the processing and kill sites are excluded. Sites were grouped into one of three habitat types: alluvial valleys, foothills/mountains, or plains/rolling hills. Regarding environmental changes, Hill asserts that during the dry Holocene, populations of large fauna such as bison would decline, forcing Paleoindians to rely more on smaller game animals. Out of the three habitat types, foothill/mountain sites are the only ones that show a significant decrease in larger faunal remains and an increase in medium-sized fauna. Looking at habitat types, alluvial valleys and foothill/mountain types show more variation in faunal remains then prairie/rolling hills, which focused almost exclusively on large fauna for the duration of the Paleoindian period. The author concludes that the degree of reliance on large game varies by habitat type.
     The subsistence strategy of the Paleoindian people is a topic of great debate. Historically, they have been thought of as big-game specialists. However, this conclusion is now being challenged. Some anthropologists argue that a reliance on large game is not a viable subsistence strategy, while others point out that there is a bias in the archaeological records towards larger mammal remains. Still, a number of anthropologists stand by the specialist theory, even citing large-game hunting as a cause of megafauna extinctions.
     This article does not offer an unequivocal answer to the question of big game verses a broad range diet, but rather offers evidence that supports parts of both theories. Big game hunting, particularly bison, was extremely important on the plains where bison populations were higher and other resources were scarce. However, Paleoindians from alluvial valley and foothill/mountain sites appear to have relied less on large game and more on the medium and smaller game that could easily be found in these habitat types. It seems that Paleoindian people cannot be lumped together under one universal subsistence strategy.

Bozell, John R.
1991 Fauna from the Hulme Site and Comments on Central Plains Tradition Subsistence Variability. Plains Anthropologist 36: 229-253.

    This article discusses the faunal remains from the Hulme site (A.D. 1195), a Central Plains tradition site in central Nebraska. A wide variety of animal remains were discovered, but the most common are black-tailed prairie dogs, deer, and pronghorn. This site has an unusually low number of large mammal remains; bison and wapiti (elk) account for only 2.4% of the total remains. Deer and pronghorn, on the other hand, make up 66.2% of the identified remains. The author suggests that the Pacific climatic episode (A.D. 1150-1550) caused periodic droughts and reduced grass quality. Because pronghorn are more drought-resistant than bison, they may have become a more valuable resource. The frequency pattern of the deer and pronghorn bones suggests that they were killed far enough away from camp where dressing at the kill site was necessary. Considering bison, the remains (representing one individual) indicate that bison hunting took place at an extremely large distance from camp, so that complete processing must have been done at the kill site. Finally, examination of the ages of the deer and pronghorn at death supports a summer occupation of the Hulme site.
     Central Plains tradition subsistence has generally been considered to consist mostly of horticulture and bison hunting, with little gathering or hunting of any other animal. However, there has been much debate over the years about how Central Plains subsistence should be categorized, and many different opinions have formed. This article argues for a summer occupation of the Hulme site, but some researchers argue that groups spent their summers bison hunting on the plains. But, among the theories there is some common ground; it can be concluded that 1) subsistence included hunting and gathering, bison hunting, and agriculture, 2) year-round occupation of a site is unlikely, and 3) climate change caused subsistence and settlement changes.
     The author concludes that Central Plains subsistence has a much wider variety than previously thought. Data from the Hulme site suggests that this group occupied this location in the summer and fall to take advantage of the alternative meat sources to bison, which were scarcer in the drier Pacific episode. However, in other sites such as the Nebraska Sand Hills bison hunting was very important. The Pacific drying affected regions in different ways, leading to the development of different subsistence methods. In fact, the author concludes that a "typical" subsistence pattern for the Central Plains tradition may not even exist.  

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