Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Milling Stones in the High Plains

Frison, George C.

1983 Stone Circles, Stone-filled Fire Pits, Grinding Stones and High Plains Archaeology. The Plains Anthropologist 28(102):Memoir19. From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Advances in Tipi Ring Investigation and Interpretation (1983), pp. 80-91

Frison’s article offers an overview of some of the most prominent and numerous features of archaeological sites of the High Plains region, namely stone circles, stone-filled fire pits, and grinding stones. According to Frison the earliest dates for the appearance of stone fire pits in the High Plains is 7000-8000 years ago, occurring in the higher elevations. Corroborating theories presented by other researchers (Keyser. 1986), Frison postulates that High Plains site structures developed into what is called the McKean complex by the Middle Plain Archaic period.

In addition to stone circles which mark the landscape throughout the High Plains characteristics of the McKean complex are associated manos and mutates, also commonly referred to as milling stones. According to Frison milling technology becomes an important staple of the Middle Plains Archaic tool assemblage, and the reason he suggests for this are a greater reliance on plant foods.

While the majority of Frison’s commentary is focused on the appearance of numerous stone hearths and associated stone rings, emphasizing our lack of understanding their presence and arrangement beyond conventionally offered hypotheses. Very little is mentioned by Frison about the presence of botanical remains or what materials were being utilized. However, I included this memoir because I strongly agree with his overall conclusion that further analysis is needed to gain a better understanding of the archaeological record of the High Plains during such a significant shift in site structures and artifact assemblages.

References cited:

Keyser, James D.

1986 The Evidence for McKean Complex Plant Utilization. The Plains Anthropologist 31(113):225-235

Keyser, James D.

1986 The Evidence for McKean Complex Plant Utilization. The Plains Anthropologist 31(113):225-235

This article provides a survey of several sites in the Northwest Plains all collectively grouped into what is called the McKean complex. Keyer's analysis includes ten sites all located in the states of Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado respectively. There are varying hypotheses about the origins of McKean complex. One being that McKean developed out of Terminal Paleoindian and Early Archaic complexes in the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado, which Keyser supports. Another which suggests the McKean complex resulted from an adaptation to the Great Basin Desert Culture, although according to the article this theory has less evidential support.

A common characteristic of the McKean complex is the presence of multiple manos and milling stones (or slabs) in association with roasting pit hearths. This has been interpreted as being used in food processing, partly because of the in situ proximity of the artfacts and the hearth features, but also because of presence of food remains and residues. One unique aspect of plant utilization in the Northwest Plains noted by Keyser is the lack of any milling stone technology in the northern regions of the Northwest Plains compared to the southern regoin. This absence could be explained by an abundance of another resource such as bison or a lack of suitable plant foods available due to poor growing conditions, or both. This division could also be indicative of some natural geographic boundary or the presence of a separate group of indigenous peoples with different cultural features and associated living strategies, however neither of these were mentioned by Keyser specifically and further research would be needed to ascertain this.

Included in the article is a table chronology including dates and artifact statistics for the ten McKean sites analyzed in the article. The dates of the site ranges from around 2600 to 1230 B.C. There were multiple manos and metates at every site, which is used by Keyser to support his analysis of McKean complex subsistence and plant consumption. This theory is further corroberated by the recovery of multiple types of plant and seed materials in situ.

One thing I felt Keyser's analysis lacked was maps of the sites included. My reason for this is another article I came across doing research presents a interesting interpretion of the relationship between Pawnee social organization and the layout of their earthlodges in a specific manner which intimately reflects Pawnee cosmology (O'Brien. 1991). Now while I realized the difficulty in reconciling ethnographic data with the archaeological record (Hanson. 1998), and I recognize that the further back in the archaeolgical record the more difficult it is to apply a Direct Historical Approach, I cannot help but wonder if more analysis in light of postprocessual approaches would yield new perspectives on data that is already well studied and documented.

References sited:

O'Brien, Patricia J.

1991 Evidence for the Antiquity of Women's Roles in Pawnee Society. The Plains Anthropologist 36(134):MEMOIR26

Hanson, Jeffrey R.
1998 Late High Plains Hunters. In Archaeology on the Great Plains, edited by W. Raymond Wood, pp. 456-480. University Press of Kansas.

1 comment:

  1. I found this article to be very interesting. My subject for the class is macrobotanical remains. It would make sense that grinding stones would have some relation to this. When Keyser stated that there was a lack of grinding stones in the Northwestern Plains, I noticed a connection to one of my articles. According to Fred Schneider (2002), there have been more plant remains found in that area then previously believed. Schneider stated that earlier excavations may have missed a lot of plant remains and that the people in that area used plants much more than believe. It is even thought that they were horticulturalists growing maize in some parts. Now, Schneider’s article is sixteen later than Keyser’s. With this more recent data, Keyser’s argument that the lack of grinding stones is related to a lack of plants being used should be reevaluated somewhat.

    Schneider, Fred
    2002 Prehistorical Horticultural in the Northeastern Plains, The Plains Anthropologist, vol. 47, No. 180:33-50.