Early Holocene Hunters & Gatherers Introduction

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Chapter 13

Early Holocene Hunters & Gatherers


  • We have moved up in time to the Holocene: The geological epoch during which we now live (starts roughly 11,000–10,000 years ago).

  • This chapter begins with a brief discussion of Kennewick Man, perhaps the most controversial for the general public, but not the only individual embroiled in legal battles

    • The remains of a mid-40s man were accidently discovered in 1996 at the end of the Columbia River, in Kennewick, Washington.

    • The estimated date for the remains is 9,300 years ago, in the Holocene.

    • Once James Chatters began involved the situation became very controversial

      • The US government invoked NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) -- The federal law that puts restrictions on the study of ancient American skeletal remains and authorizes their return to modern tribes.

      • A group of biological anthropologists sued and a group of 5 American Indian tribes counter-sued.

      • The lawsuit was ‘settled’ in favor of the anthropologists, but cost $8.5 million to “settle” and 9 years in court.

      • The cost in relationships between many American Indian groups and archaeologists is astronomical; years will be spent re-establishing trust.

    • More on this specimen beginning on p. 315

Entering the New World 1

  • There is a big debate is to when did humans first entered the New World.

    • The estimates range from 30,000+ years ago to 13,500 years ago. The latest data point to about 16,500 as a strongly supportable date.

      • When I was a child everyone I know (and probably you too) learned the First Peoples of the New World migrated over the Bering Land Bridge, aka Beringia (and this is one of the competing views we will discuss). In technical terms this hypothesis is called “Clovis-First” after the tool tradition linked to this migration of peoples

      • We will also discuss another hypothesis called “Pre-Clovis” which, based on the name, obviously means there were people in the New World before the Bering Land bridge was open.

    • The migration into the New World no matter when, expanded humanity’s dispersal through 2 new continents.

    • It is during this time that the scene was set for plant and animal domestication and thus the transformation of the Earth’s surface

  • Because we are talking about modern humans the changes that occur are the result of cultural changes, not physical ones.

  • We are now talking about biocultural evolution, for the most part stimulated by cultural innovations and the effects of an ever growing population. Did you notice that the textbook is now labeling chapters with ‘archaeology” and not “paleoanthropology”?

Entering the New World 2

    • When people first arrived in the New World is tied up with where they arrived.

  • Archaeologists rely on biological, geographical, and linguistic data to help sort out this question.

  • Three competing hypotheses:

      • Bering Land Bridge: By way of the Bering land bridge that connected Asia and North America several times during the late Pleistocene.

      • Pacific coastal route: Along the coast of the northern Pacific Rim

      • North Atlantic ice-edge corridor: By following the ice edge across the northern Atlantic from western Europe.

    • It is important to keep a few concepts in mind:

      • These hypothesis are not mutually exclusive (First Peoples could have migrated using both or all three pathways, at different times)

      • Ignore all the media hype that suggests that anyone who suggested Pre-Clovis was harassed. They WERE challenged, but this is because it is good science but because of some “conspiracy” to cover up the truth.

Hypothesis 1: Bering Land Bridge 1

  • The first pathway to be proposed was by way of the Bering land bridge that connected Asia and North America several times during the late Pleistocene.

    • The climate altered during this time, and more ocean water was locked into glaciers.

    • As a result, the he dry-land connection between Asia and America (Beringia) existed periodically during the Pleistocene epoch (28-11,000 years ago). Even earlier, at times the bridge was dry (75-45 kya)

      • This bridge was quite extensive in land area, up to 1,300 miles wide.

      • The land bridge consisted of steppes and tundra. This environment would have been the same as that in northern Asia, allowing for similar cultural adaptations on both sides of the bridge.

        • Steppes; Dry treeless plains characterized by temperature extremes.

        • Tundra: Treeless plains characterized by permafrost conditions that support the growth of shallow-rooted vegetation such as grasses and mosses.

      • This environment supported herds of grazing animals.

Hypothesis 1: Bering Land Bridge 2

  • So, Beringia was dry during two times of interest to human migration:

    • 75-45,000 years ago, during which the problem for travelers was the glaciers themselves.

      • Laurentian: Pleistocene ice sheet centered in the Hudson Bay region and extending across much of eastern Canada and the northern United States

      • Cordilleran: Pleistocene ice sheet originating in mountains of western North America.

    • Around 25-11,000 years ago is when the glaciers again had started to recede. They had receded by about 13,500 years ago and so if Beringia is the route, it had to be this more recent date.

  • In northern Asia, archaeologists have found Paleocene hunting tools.

    • At Yana RHS (Russia) at 30,000 years ago stone tools, horn, ivory spear foreshafts are found

    • More recently, 14-13,000 years ago at Berelekh (Russia) shows how well adapted residents were to this cold environment.

  • This route is dependent on several ideas:

    • This is the technologically simplest way to the New World

    • Lots of other animals arrived by this route during the Pleistocene

    • The skeletal and genetic evidence favors an Asian origin for the New World peoples.

Hypothesis 2: Pacific Coast Route

  • The second scenario also has the first migrants coming from Asia.

    • They would move along the Pacific Rim from Asia to North America.

    • This is a water route along which people could have arrived earlier (17-15 kya) as the coast was less daunting then the interior.

      • There was a diverse marine and terrestrial ecosystem in place.

      • Among the resources were kelp forests, fishes, mammals and birds

  • Would these populations have watercraft with which to travel the “Pacific Rim Highway”/

    • There is evidence of use of watercraft had been used to reach Australia by at least 50,000 years ago.

    • This means it might be feasible, but no direct data for a boat or raft yet found.

  • Many like this idea as it explains the finds in South America that predate the glacial recessions. There are problems with this view:

    • The archaeological data that would support this view is submerged.

    • There is little evidence of a marine-adapted population on the coast of northeastern Asia

    • One computer simulation suggests that the coastal route is not enough to explain all the data

Hypothesis 3: North Atlantic Ice-edge Corridor

  • The earliest arrivals in the New World may have come from western Europe and traveled up the coast and across to North America by following the ice sheet between the continents in the late Pleistocene.

    • This third hypothesis tries, among other things, to explain the Clovis culture.

      • Clovis: Phase of North American prehistory, 13,500–13,000 years ago in the West, during which short-fluted projectile points were used in hunting mammoths.

      • This idea is that some of the migrants may have come from Europe and not Asia.

  • Bradley and Stanford are the primary advocates of this idea and they base their ideas on what they see as the similarity of the Clovis point tool-making technique and that of the Solutreans of Europe

    • They say the Solutreans may have entered by following the sea-ice bridge that connected America and Europe during last glaciation

    • They point to the modern Inuits as evidence too.

  • There are problems:

    • The Solutreans were gone from Europe 5,000 years earlier.

    • So far no other data to suggest this route.

  • An excellent video to watch that outlines this 3rd hypothesis is called “America’s Stone-Age Explorers” (Full video in library)

The Earliest Americans 1

  • Physical and Genetic Evidence

    • Prior to 9,500 years ago there are fewer than 2 dozen examples of skeletal remains.

      • In addition to Kennewick Man here are a few of the other finds:

        • At Snake River (12,800 years ago, Idaho) shows a young woman who had experienced metabolic stress, likely starvation

        • At Spirit Cave (10,600 years ago, Nevada) a mid-40s man wrapped in fine matting, tooth abscesses and back problems

        • By Grimes Point Rock-shelter (~11-10,000, Nevada) a teenage boy who died of a obsidian knife wound.

    • The scarce skeletal evidence that survives from the earliest era of New World prehistory shows considerable morphological diversity, and has encouraged speculation about Native American origins.

      • The craniofacial traits seen in modern Asian and American Indian populations are absent in the earliest skeletal material

      • Only after about 7 kya do the crania of the individuals begin to resemble modern American Indians

    • Molecular data suggest the effects founder effect are apparent in the DNA of early settlers and that 4-5 lineages are represented in the mtDNA

    • Intriguing, at Pailey Cavle site (14,000 years ago, Oregon) coprolite yielded human hair and human DNA

The Earliest Americans 2

  • Cultural Traces of the Earliest Americans

    • Much of the archaeological debate focuses on the timeframe from 30-13.2 kya

      • The real debate is over how to interpret the data that is available

      • But, every does agree that by 13.2 kya Paleo-Indian -- early hunter gatherers, from about 13,500 to 10,000 ya -- were here and using the Clovis complex.

      • But, an overemphasis on Clovis cultures may have obscured that in Central and South Americas these bi-facially worked tools are much less common.

  • Evidence for Pre-Clovis Sites: Criteria

    • Archaeological remains must exhibit undeniable human presence

    • Archaeological deposits must be within undisturbed geologic deposits in “proper” stratigraphic context (below Clovis materials)

      • Clovis, discussed next, is the tool tradition known to be in the Americas by 13,500 years ago

      • The data is less clear for sites that are called pre-Clovis sites.

    • Archaeological materials must be amenable to dating by radiometric techniques or clearly associated with materials amenable to radiometric dating

    • Results of the work must be well-published in generally accessible professional journal or monograph

Which are the Pre-Clovis Sites? 1

  • North American sites:

    • Debra L. Friedkin site (central Texas, 15,500-13, 200)

      • Over 15,000 artifacts found at this site, pre-Clovis

      • This is a very promising site, but final word yet to come

    • Pendejo Cave (New Mexico, 37,000 –12,000)

      • North American site for which great antiquity is claimed

      • Skin prints determined to be primate

      • Possible cultural remains include charred wood, crude stone tools and the toe bone of an extinct horse

    • Cactus Hill (Virginia, ? 18-15 kya)

      • Unusual stone assemblages and tools found well below the typical Paleo-Indian components

      • 18-15 kya dates concur with stratigraphy, but not yet accepted

    • Meadowcroft (Pennsylvania, 19,000–14,000)

      • North American site which is increasingly accepted as a valid example of pre-Clovis presence of humans in North America

      • This indicates big-game hunters and gatherers were present in North America before 14,000 years ago

Which are the Pre-Clovis Sites? 2

  • South American Sites

    • Pedra Furada (Brazil, ?50,000 -?40,000)

      • One of several South American sites for which great antiquity is claimed

      • Re-dating of charcoal from hearths yielded 50 kya dates

      • Re-dating of rock paintings shifted them from 30 kya to only about 3 kya

    • Monte Verde (Chile, 14,500)

      • Pre-Clovis camp site in southern South America

      • Where wooden hut remains, wood and stone tools, abundant plant and animal remains appear to date to about 14,800 years ago

      • By 1997, a reexamination of Monte Verde confirmed its antiquity.

  • Summary of current findings.

    • Pailey Caves site in Oregon is best candidate to date for North American pre-Clovis site.

    • Monte Verde is best candidate in South America

  • Updates:

    • Update: New stone tools at this site support that Clovis was not the only tool tradition in place. The update calls this second tool tradition “Western Stemmed Projectile”

    • Update: Latest genetic data supports a previously proposed migration model that there were several “waves of migration” into the New World.

    • Update: Manis Mastodon site, near Olympic Peninsula, Washington is a likely pre-Clovis site (13,800)

Paleo-Indians in the Americas

  • During the Paleo-Indian period (13,5-10 kya), evidence of mobile hunting and gathering comes from widely scattered locations, including many sites in the western United States.

    • The distinctive fluted point is the period’s hallmark artifact.

    • Each face of a fluted point typically displays a groove (or “flute”) resulting from the removal of a long channel flake, possibly to make it easier to use a special hafting technique for mounting the point on a shaft.

  • One of the striking findings about Clovis is that is was found in so many places across both continents at nearly the same time in all the places.

    • Distribution of points cross-cuts many environments

    • This suggests that the peoples were of recent introduction to the New World or that the idea of Clovis spread very fast (it was a great idea)

  • These fluted Clovis spear points were hafted to bone foreshafts making for more efficient hunting

    • This means that when a point was thrown it became detachable from the spear shaft

    • This may be the first example of a ‘semi-automatic’ weapon

Paleo-Indian Lifeways

  • There is a reevaluation of the megafauna hunter scenario (animals over 100 pounds) as explaining all Paleo-Indian cultures. Instead there was a broad spectrum practice (eat more food choices)

    • A recent analysis of 62 Paleo-Indian sites from US negates this scenario. Other animals were being eaten, such as caribou, deer, smaller animals, and fish (depending on region)

    • Lower Amazon, in northern Brazil evidence of carbonized seeds, nuts, fishing

    • Several other sites indicate much of the meat was not from megafauna

    • While Clovis hunters (13,200 –12,800) did hunt megafauna it was likely a very rare event.

    • Some association with megafauna (mammoths and mastodons) but usually involving single individuals in locations that suggests chance encounter (associated with water)

    • At many of these kill sites, knives, scrapers, and finely flaked and fluted projectile points are directly associated with the animal bones, all of which are evidence that the megafauna were human prey.

    • Clovis tradition was repeatedly replaced as cultural traditions shifted:

      • The Clovis point gave way to the Folsom point (c. 12,500) Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers who hunted now-extinct giant long-horned bison in the American Southwest.

      • Next came the Plano tradition (11,000 –9,000) Hunter-gatherers of the Great Plains; their unfluted spear or dart points are associated only with modern fauna

      • Finally, the Dalton variety (10-8,000) Late or transitional Paleo-Indian projectile type seen in the eastern US

Important Paleo-Indian Sites in the New World

  • Colby (Wyoming) & Naco/Lehner (Arizona) (13,500 –13,000)

    • Paleo-Indian sites where tools and other artifacts are found associated with the remains of mammoths

    • Truly impressive piles of bison bones

  • Pedra Pintada Cave (Brazil, c. 12,000)

    • Organic remains provide evidence of a hunter gatherer way of life in the tropical rain forest.

    • Some of the stone tools suggest they were wood-working implements.

  • Olsen-Chubbuck & James Miller sites (Colorado, 9,400)

    • Bison kill site, created when a herd was stampeded across a narrow gully in eastern Colorado

    • Remember there were no horses at this time so all hunters were on foot.

  • Kennewick (Washington, 9,300)

  • One of few early North American human skeletons; object of a 9-year court battle to decide if scientists would be permitted to study his remains

  • Links: Colby Site & Wanna dig? Read more here

Pleistocene Extinctions

  • Several hypotheses have been advanced by scientists to explain the disappearance of North and South American megafauna from the fossil record at the end of the Pleistocene epoch.

    • Overkill hypothesis was the idea that humans killed the megafauna from overuse.

      • Paleo-Indians presence may be sufficient as an explanation, but not yet convinced required.

      • Some archaeologists suggest that humans took advantage of the vulnerability of animals drawn to shrinking water holes during this time and helped hasten their extinction

      • Exception may be the disappearance of the proboscideans (mammoths, mastodons, elephants and related species)

    • Climate change hypothesis in that during this time we note the Younger Dryas

      • A climatic event between roughly 13,500 and 11,500 years ago

      • When the climate of higher latitudes became colder and drier but did not mark a full return to glacial conditions.

  • Problems include:

    • No depth of evidence that Paleo-Indians focused on megafauna to the exclusion of other foods

    • Species extinction is a natural process and happens for a variety of reasons

  • While humans likely contributed to the extinctions it looks to be primarily a response to climate shifts

Early Holocene Hunter-Gatherers 1

  • Across North America and Eurasia gradual warming conditions during the transition between the Pleistocene and the Holocene had significant effects on human behaviors

  • Environmental Changes

    • After the Younger Dryas period ended, the general long-term trend of global warming resumed.

      • Glaciers melted, much land was newly exposed, biotic zones shifted northward, and sea levels rose as much as 400 ft and new rivers were cut.

        • As much as 40% of European land area was lost due to the rise of sea levels

        • This means many archaeological sites are under water.

    • As the ice sheets receded till plains appeared: Stones, boulders, loess, mud, sand, and silt deposited by glaciers as they melt; a ground moraine.

    • Different animals began to thrive.

    • Right after the last ice age the north experienced a climatic maximum (8-6 kya)

      • Episode of higher average annual temperatures that affected much of the globe for several millennia after the end of the last ice age; also known as the altithermal in the western United States or hypsithermal in the East.

      • Huge rain-fed lakes that filled during glacial times evaporated.

      • Temperatures were as much as 5 degrees higher than now

Early Holocene Hunter-Gatherers 2

  • Cultural Adjustments

    • Cultures kept pace with the environmental changes. Different terms are used to represent the different parts of the world that reflect the cultural diversity of these peoples.

      • Mesolithic: Middle Stone Age; period of hunter-gatherers, especially in northwestern Europe

      • Epipaleolithic: Term used primarily in reference to the Near East, designating the time of Middle Stone Age foragers and collectors.

      • Archaic: North American hunter-gatherers after the end of the last Ice Age; traditionally ends with the beginning of the use of ceramics; equivalent to the Mesolithic in the Old World.

    • Hunter-gatherers: People who make their living by hunting, fishing, and gathering their food, and not by producing it.

      • Essentially, this time frame was one where we see an embracing of the broad spectrum strategy as many of the plants and animals seen in the Upper Paleolithic are extinct.

      • Seasonality and Resource Scheduling: Technique of hunter-gatherers to maximize subsistence by relocating in accord with the availability of key resources at specific times and places throughout the year.

    • Hunter-gathers Lifeways (on a continuum from foragers to collectors)

      • Foragers: A hunter-gatherer who lives in small groups that move camp frequently to take advantage of fresh resources as they come into season

      • Collectors: A hunter-gatherer who tends to stay on one place for a long time.

Case Studies of Early Holocene Cultures 1

  • Archaic Hunter-gatherers of North America

    • By the time of the Holocene the atlatl and the spear were the dominate weapons used in hunting. The bow and arrow came to the US by 1,800-1,500 years ago.

    • Many populations tended to the collector strategy over the forager strategy, which increased their carrying capacity (the maximum population of a specific organism that can be maintained at a steady state)

  • Western North America

    • Rock-shelters/caves in the Great Basin include archaeological sites such as Gatecliff Shelter, Lovelock Cave (both in Nevada) and Danger Cave (Utah). Coprolites help to reconstruct the diet of these peoples:

      • In this environment, freshwater and brackish marshes were gathering spots.

      • Rarely was larger game exploited.

      • Abundant and well-preserved artifacts associated with hunters and gatherers in the Great Basin have been found that include weapons, baskets, nets, mats, clothing and even gaming pieces.

      • In this area, due to the limited resources, cultural flexibility was key to survival.

Case Studies of Early Holocene Cultures 2

  • Western North America (continued)

    • California and the rest of the West Coast had varied environments, and so demonstrate the range of cultural adaptations.

      • Groups such as the Chumash of California, the ancestors of the Makah at Ozette and the Thule (Inuit) are examples of differing cultural adaptations and abundant food resources.

        • Salmon was an important resource, but they also hunted wild game, such as bear and deer. Halibut and whales also provided meat proteins

        • Berries and other sources of vegetation are utilized seasonally

      • By historic times many of these groups were sedentary collectors.

    • Famous example is Ozette, Washington

      • This was a whaling village that stood about 400 B.C.E.-1750 C.E. at the very northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula

      • In 1750 C.E. about half the village was buried under a mud slide, preserving the village intact. This site is often called the “Pompeii of North America”.

      • The next slide is a set of pictures taken by Richard D. Daugherty for Pictures of Record

Ozette Archaeological Remains (Not pictured)

Case Studies of Early Holocene Cultures 3

  • Eastern North America

    • In New England some coastal groups used canoes to hunt sea mammals.

      • In the Northeast and the Appalachians, nuts were an important staple. These included acorns, chestnuts, black walnuts, butternuts, beechnuts and hickory nuts.

      • Whitetail deer and black bears were among the meat and clothing resources.

    • In New England some coastal groups used canoes to hunt sea mammals and swordfish

      • At certain times of the year they turned to salmon and caribou

      • Among the sparsely distributed boreal forests they hunted caribou, moose, fished and trapped

    • In the Midwest around the Great Lakes, peoples were seasonally mobile collectors.

      • They connected with those further south by the large rivers, such as the Mississippi

      • Koster (Illinois, 9,000 –4,000) is a classic example and represents a stratified sequence of Archaic camp sites that document the changing lifeways of people who lived on the edge of the Illinois River valley throughout the Archaic period

Case Studies of Early Holocene Cultures 4

  • Eastern North America (continued)

    • These southern groups began to make earthworks as early as 5,500 years ago.

  • Poverty Point (Louisiana, 3,500) is representative of the southern groups with whom the Great Lakes people were trading.

  • Poverty Point consists of a large series of earthworks that covers nearly one square mile; the most elaborate example of planned communities that were built in the Southeast in late Archaic times.

    • Koster slides were produced by Thomas Genn Cook and Michael D. Wiant while the Poverty Points slides were produced by Clarence H. Webb

Koster Archaeological Remains (
Not pictured)

Poverty Point Archaeological Remains (
Not pictured)
Mesolithic of Northern Europe

  • Water levels went up around the English Channel and other low-laying areas.

  • Across NW Europe grasses, then forests spread over the steppes.

    • Plant materials were scarce or absent for many parts of the year so relied on hunting and fishing.

    • Animals such as red deer, elk and auroch replaced the reindeer, horses, and bison of previous times.

      • Aurochs: European wild oxen, ancestral to domesticated cattle

      • Between the climate changes, animal shifts and new technologies, humans expanded their carrying capacity

    • Two examples of Mesolithic sites in Europe:

      • Star Carr (10,500, England) was used as a seasonal hunting camp

      • Evidence of microliths was found

      • Even earlier use of the bow and arrow

      • Domesticated dogs likely helped the Star Carr hunters

      • Tybrind Vig (7,500-6000, Denmark) is a location where several dugout canoes, paddles, fishhooks and fabric have been found.

        • Coastal resources became a larger part of the diet where available.

        • For instance, shellfish became a ready source of protein

Epipaleolithic of the Near East 1

  • Peoples in these regions tended to rely more on wild plant resources, supplemented by animal protein.

    • There had been an absence of ice sheets during the Ice Ages

    • At this time some of these groups were on the way to food production (Chapter 14) and a transition from hunter-gatherers to more sedentary lifeways

    • One hunter-gatherer group, the Kebaran, of the Levant occupied this area for millennium

    • At Ohalo II (23,000 years ago , Galilee Sea of Israel) pre-Kebaran or Kebaran site

      • This site shows that these hunter-gatherers were sedentary well before becoming committed farmers

      • Originally thought that sedentism began 10,000 years later.

          • But at this site, found huts, grass bedding and hearths.

          • Over 90,000 plant remains discovered also (142 general and species)

          • A grinding slab showed these plants were eaten.

      • The Kebaran were collector-type hunter gatherers. They also adopted a transhumance lifeway, a seasonal migration from one resource zone to another, especially between highlands and lowlands.

      • Ohalo II challenges our views of plant use.

Epipaleolithic of the Near East 2

  • The Natufians

    • Between 12-11 kya a warming climate appeared and rainfall also increased. A result was that neighboring grasses expanded from the lowlands into the forest higher up.

    • We see more investment in grasses and more evidence of non-portables

    • The people are called the Natufians: Processor-type foragers who established sedentary settlements in parts of the Near East after 12,000 years ago)

    • Sites became more permanent than those at Ohalo II.

    • We see significance evidence of sedentary collector way of life and at many sites in Israel and Syria we see they did not move

      • They used gazelle horn sickles with flint knives to harvest plants

      • Also see evidence of grinding stones and mortars

      • Further stone foundations, often associated with cemeteries are found

      • The starchy diet of the Natufians resulted in health shifts and dental caries, hypoplasias and other dental changes occurred (including smaller size of teeth)

    • One Natufian site is at Abu Hureya (Syria) which is further discussed in Chapter 14.

    • Slides on the next page were produced by François Valla and Ofer Bar Yosef for Pictures of Record

Natufian Archaeological Remains (Not pictured)

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