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There is not anywhere upon the globe a large tract of country which we have discovered destitute of inhabitants, or whose first population can be fixed with any degree of historical certainty. And yet, as the most philosophical minds can seldom refrain from investigating the infancy of great nations, our curiosity consumes itself in toilsome and disappointed efforts.

(Edward Gibbon 1778:(I):188-189)


Since 1993 the Society for American Archaeology's National Historic Landmarks Archeology Committee, and the National Park Service (NPS) have worked together to develop a National Historic Landmark theme study on Paleoindian, or as it's also known here, Earliest American life in the eastern United States. The purpose of this theme study is to identify Paleoindian sites that best exemplify and illustrate nationally significant information about human occupation over vast regions of the eastern United States during the earliest periods of settlement, and where appropriate, develop National Historic Landmark (NHL) nominations for selected sites. In this theme study, the eastern United States has been divided into three regions: the Northeast, the Southeast, and the Midwest.

This study is based on the evidence provided by archeological investigations and it therefore concentrates on the recoverable, physical remains of human, geological, technological, and environmental processes. When human beings reached the Americas is currently unknown, but permanent settlement, by populations that survived, and spread over the landscape, is currently believed to be prior to 13,500 years ago. Archeologists use three broad temporal and cultural periods to describe the Earliest American sites and assemblages: Initial Human Occupation (> ca. 13,450 B.P.), Widespread Settlement: Clovis and Related Assemblages (ca. 13,450–12,900 B.P.), and Terminal Paleoindian Occupations (ca. 12,900–11,200 B.P.). These are the time periods used in this document (see below under Chronological Considerations).

Section E, Statement of Historic Contexts contains an introduction as well as detailed contexts including chronological, geographic, and environmental information for the three Paleoindian periods described above for each region, the Northeast, the Southeast and the Midwest.

Section F., Associated Property Types, provides information about using the NHL and National Register Criteria. Though this is a theme study intended to identify properties as National Historic Landmarks, the National Register Criteria as well as the NHL Criteria are discussed because both sets of Criteria mutually support the different listings. National Register Criteria are also included so this study can be used for identifying those sites that are eligible to the National Register only. Because NHL Criterion 6 and National Register Criterion D will be used most often when evaluating sites, research needs and questions are examined in the introduction of Section F, and specifically for each region. Registration requirements are also detailed in this section. The introduction for Section F also offers an evaluation matrix that combines the NHL Criteria (research questions), registration requirements (including integrity), and the NHL thematic framework for ease in examining and evaluating these sites. An example of using the matrix is presented. A list of proposed Paleoindian sites is provided under each region in this section.

Section G, Geographical Data provides the list of states that are covered in each region. Specific details about the history of this project are covered in Section H. Summary of Identification and Evaluations Methods.

The table of contents lists major sections, subsections, and tables and figures for ease in the use of this document. Also noted at the end of the table of contents, but worth repeating here, in this document, sites in Bold are listed in the National Register. Sites in Bold and Italics are listed in the National Register and designated NHLs.

Chronological Considerations

When human beings reached the Americas is currently unknown but permanent settlement is currently believed to be prior to 13,500 years ago. Whether one migration or several occurred, and whether all were even successful is currently unknown. In this study, these first peoples are variously described as "Paleoindians," "Paleoamericans" or the "Earliest Americans." How far back in time initial colonization occurred, how many separate migrations took place, whether all these migrations were successful, and the geographical and biological affinities of these founding populations remains ambiguous, and are subjects currently under intensive investigation by archeologists.

As in the past, the fragmentary evidence used to reconstruct long-vanished landscapes and the identity, culture, and history of America's earliest occupants still spark interest and debate. Equally compelling are the faint images of people with unfamiliar cultural strategies coping with vastly different conditions in now familiar places. Today archeological sites preserve evidence of Paleoindian lives and times. Such sites are among the rarest and most threatened cultural resources in the nation and nowhere is this more true than in the eastern half of the country, where a few sites have dramatically transformed our ideas about America's deep past.

Until the 1920s, archeologists believed that people were relative newcomers to the Americas. Most Native peoples, on the other hand, believed their ancestors had been here from time immemorial. Archeologists' perspective changed with the discovery of human artifacts found in association with bones of now-extinct animals at the Folsom and Clovis sites in New Mexico. One of the investigators, Frank H.H. Roberts, is credited with first referring to these people as Paleoindians. Subsequent finds at the Lehner mammoth kill site in Arizona, demonstrated the antiquity of humans in North America, and fixed in the American imagination the image of the Paleoindians as Ice-Age big game hunters. This image guided the designation of Lehner and ten other sites as National Historic Landmarks in the first National Park Service archeological theme study. Prominent specialists, led by H. Marie Wormington, examined more than seventy sites dating to what were then regarded as the first millennia of human occupation. Acting on recommendations made by Wormington's team, the Secretary of the Interior designated nineteen of these as National Historic Landmarks on January 20, 1961.

Much has changed since the completion of that study. A surge of exploration often mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (as amended) and other preservation laws, resulted in the discovery of scores of Paleoindian sites and thousands of Paleoindian projectile point finds. Review of this research demonstrates reveals the need to update existing National Historic Landmark documentation and to nominate additional properties.

Indeed, new research has resulted in adding nine new Paleoindian properties as National Historic Landmarks during the past thirty years. Three of these, Virginia's Thunderbird District (designated in 1977), the Hardaway site in North Carolina (designated 1990), and the Hester site in Mississippi (designated 2000), are in the eastern half of the nation. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the seventy Paleoindian sites and districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places in that time lie east of the Mississippi. At the same time, archeological restudy of Missouri's Graham Cave, the Modoc Rockshelter in Illinois, and other places designated through Wormington's study have shown that several properties identified as Paleoindian date to more recent times. However, this document will deal with these sites because they were in an original theme study (Prehistoric Hunters and Gatherers, NPS 1960) that dealt with these early sites and should be located in the context of this updated version.

Archeologists analyzing new data drawn from these hundreds of Paleoindian properties are constructing a complex picture of Paleoindian life. Interdisciplinary teams of archeologists, geomorphologists, geophysicists, geochemists, palynologists, paleobiologists, and other specialists have devised techniques to recover previously overlooked tiny plant and animal remains through flotation and chemical analyses of soils. The charred nuts and plant remains, eggshells, and bones of turtles, birds, and other small animal bones from locales like Thunderbird National Historic Landmark and National Register properties such as Pennsylvania's Shawnee-Minisink site and the Metzig Garden site in Wisconsin, reveal that Paleoindians used more varied foods than previously thought.

Increasingly accurate dating methods, and other innovative new techniques developed through these partnerships are shedding new light on the causes and consequences of the shift from Ice-Age adaptations towards more modern ways of life following the most recent retreats of glacial ice-sheets. Scholars meticulously analyzing well-stratified deposits at locales like Pennsylvania's Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Virginia's Cactus Hill site are challenging established notions about the age of the earliest sites.

Far from being simple big-game hunters, Paleoindians pursued a range of complex, flexible, and diverse survival strategies in a dynamic changing environment. And nowhere does that seem to have been more true than east of the Mississippi where new discoveries are altering our views of the continent's early occupation. And in the eastern United States, agriculture, land development and urban population expansion are creating new challenges for those responsible to interpret and protect the record of the ancient past.

In this document, calendar years before the present (BP) are employed in the text to describe dating of periods and events in the past. Radiocarbon dates or ages (rcbp) are also sometimes used, typically with a calibrated or calendar age provided. Tables accompany the text provide calendar and radiocarbon ages of the various temporal subdivisions employed in each part of the region, climatic events and cultural developments, and known radiocarbon dates. The reason for this is simple: the radiocarbon and calendar time scales are not in agreement this far back in the past.

That is, the further back in time we go, the greater the difference between calendar and radiocarbon years. During the Paleoindian era, radiocarbon ages are a thousand or more years too young, or recent, when compared with calendar time. Thus, for example, the traditional ending point for the Paleoindian era, 10,000 rcbp, is in reality 11,200 calendar years ago, a difference of 1200 years. This difference grows the further back in time we go, with profound implications for our interpretation of the archaeological record. A radiocarbon age of 11,500 years, for example, is actually 13,500 calendar years ago. Sound calibrations have recently been developed linking the radiocarbon and calendar timescales well back into the Late Pleistocene, to the limits of the radiocarbon dating technique (Hughen et al. 2000; Kitigawa and van der Plicht 1998; Stuiver et al. 1998). Paleoindian era, calendar years should be used whenever possible in interpretations and analyses (Anderson 2001:144; Fiedel 1999, 2000), and as noted above, in this document, we intend to provide radiocarbon years as well as calibrated dates throughout.

The Paleoindian archeological record in Eastern North America is discussed herein using the chronological and cultural historical conventions employed in each of the three regions examined, in the Northeast, Midwest, and Southeast. Specific stages or subperiods used in each region, together with information on associated cultural developments, climatic events, and associated calendar and radiocarbon ages, are provided in Table 1. This concordance provides a basic frame of reference for Eastern North American Paleoindian assemblages, and is intended to make comparisons between the regions easier.

Paleoindian chronology in Eastern North America is based on a wide array of analytical procedures, including comparative typological analyses, specifically the cross-dating of distinctive artifacts found on Eastern sites with comparable specimens that have been found and dated elsewhere in the Americas. Absolute dating procedures that have been used include conventional and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating, and thermoluminescence (TL) dating. Conventional radiocarbon dating, based on the fixed rate of decay of the carbon-14 isotope, which is absorbed by all living organisms, is effective back to about 50,000 years.

A limitation of the procedure is that it requires fairly substantial amounts of carbon, in the tens of grams. AMS radiocarbon dating, in contrast, permits the use of very small carbon samples, on the order of a few hundred micrograms. As preservation of carbon on Eastern Paleoindian sites is often poor, due to their great age, the ability to date small fragments of charcoal through AMS dating makes the procedure an extremely important research tool.

Thermoluminescence and optically stimulated luminescence dating procedures provide measures of how much time has elapsed since certain materials were last exposed to high heat (i.e., >ca. 400 degrees Celcius) or sunlight, respectively. Quartz and feldspar are particularly sensitive materials that these procedures can be applied to successfully, and have the advantage of being (typically) quite common on archeological sites. Great care must be taken in collecting these samples, however, since exposure to heat or light during collection will affect the results. Although less common than radiocarbon dating, in recent years these procedures are seeing increasing application in Paleoindian studies.

Other approaches used to determine the age of Paleoindian assemblages include geochronology and seriation. Geochronology focuses on the relative dating of cultural assemblages in geological strata, including the relationship of artifact-bearing assemblages to fixed, well dated geological strata, such as flooding events, ash deposits, or other readily recognizable strata. Seriation is a method of graphically and quantitatively exploring changes in artifact forms and assemblages over time. Based on the assumption that specific forms wax and wane in popularity, frequency diagrams or other analytical measures for specific artifact categories can be produced and compared, and the results used to order assemblage. While a great many sources of evidence and inference are used, the precise dating of many of the earliest assemblages in the Americas is highly imperfect or unknown. For this reason Paleoindian sites that can be securely dated are extremely important.

Temporal and Cultural Subdivisions

Three broad temporal and cultural periods are used to describe the sites and assemblages of Paleoindians.

  • Initial Human Occupations (> ca. 13,450 B.P.)
  • Widespread Settlement: Clovis and Related Assemblages (ca. 13,450–12,900 B.P.)
  • Terminal Paleoindian Occupations (ca. 12,900–11,200 B.P.)

These intervals correspond to the period of the initial colonization of the Americas, the subsequent appearance of evidence for widespread settlement and, finally, the period of transition to a modern climatic and biotic regime.

Initial Human Occupations
(> ca. 13,450 B.P., >11,500 rcbp)

When initial human occupation of the Eastern United States occurred is currently unknown, but is assumed to have been at least as early as 13,450 B.P. (i.e., > 11,500 rcbp). A number of sites that predate 13,450 B.P. are reported in the literature from the Eastern United States, but many remain controversial. Possible Initial Paleoindian sites in Eastern North America include Big Eddy in Missouri, Cactus Hill in Virginia, Little Salt Spring and Page-Ladson in Florida, Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania, and Topper in South Carolina. These and other sites are discussed in the regional summary chapters that follow.

During the twentieth century there was appreciable speculation about possible pebble tool industries and "pre-projectile point" horizons in the New World. Some of this followed on widely announced findings of Oldowan assemblages in East Africa, which led to questions as to whether human occupations in the New World could also have great antiquity. The debate also encompassed an issue that is important to this day, notably how does one recognize assemblages lacking distinctive bifacial forms, and use them in dating (e.g., Krieger 1962, 1964)?

The fact that assemblages dating to this period are comparatively uncommon in Eastern North America suggests human populations were themselves few and far between. Groups living within the region for any length of time, at least upwards of a few generations, would have almost certainly become visible archaeologically, through natural reproduction (Adams et al. 2001; Anderson and Gillam 2001). That this is not the case suggests population was extremely limited. Some of these assemblages may, accordingly, reflect "failed migrations," that is, the sites of groups who reached the region, but died out after one or a few generations, or else moved onward.

Widespread Settlement: Clovis and Related Assemblages
(ca. 13,450–12,900 B.P., 11,500–10,800 rcbp)

The first unequivocal evidence for widespread human occupation in the New World dates to shortly after 13,450 B.P., when assemblages characterized by fluted points appear in many areas. Classic Clovis fluted points are a hallmark of these early assemblages. These points are typically relatively large lanceolates with nearly parallel sides, grinding on haft areas and up to one third or so of the lateral margins, slightly concave bases, and single or multiple flutes that rarely extend more than a third of the way up the body (Sellards 1952; Wormington 1957). Clovis points have long been assumed to be the markers of the first populations to enter, explore, and settle in the hemisphere. Since it now appears that at least some people were in the New World prior to the widespread occurrence of Clovis technology, what may instead be represented is the radiation of a superior technological tradition. Clovis points have been dated to between ca. 13,250 and 12,900 B.P. at a number of locations in the southwest and lower plains (Fiedel 1999; Haynes 1987, 1992, 1993; Roosevelt et al. 1997; Taylor et al. 1996).

It has been suggested that within Paleoindian assemblages dating to this time, sites with prismatic blades and blade cores may be earlier than those without these artifacts, since this technology occurs on some western Clovis sites dated to at or before 13,000 B.P. (Ellis et al. 1998:159). Blades and blade cores are infrequent on northern Paleoindian sites, but they have been observed in some numbers at sites in the Southwest and Southeast (Anderson and Sassaman 1996; Faught 1996; Green 1963).

By shortly after 13,000 B.P., a diversification of projectile point forms occurred across North America, indicating a probable fragmenting of the widespread Clovis tradition, and the probable emergence of more geographically circumscribed subregional or regional cultural traditions. In the Plains, the Folsom culture appears to have emerged by or shortly after 13,000 B.P., and certainly by 12,850 B.P. (Fiedel 1999). It is probably safe to assume that similar successor cultures to Clovis were emerging about this same time. The end of this period is also the time of the sudden onset of the Younger Dryas, a period of intense cold worldwide, that continued through much of the ensuing terminal Paleoindian era. The fragmentation of Clovis culture and the emergence of more localized regional and subregional cultural traditions, it is argued, was brought about in part by the unexpected onset of these harsh conditions.

Terminal Paleoindian Occupations
(ca. 12,900–11,200 B.P., 10,800–10,000 rcbp)

The final part of the Paleoindian era is dated from 12,900–11,200 B.P., and is a time of tremendous cultural and climatic change, trends that were probably closely related. The terminal Pleistocene extinctions were largely complete at the start of this period (Mead and Meltzer 1984), and human populations were likely quite low in many areas, while at its end, groups that appear to be fully adapted to Holocene biota and environmental conditions are present in large numbers. The Younger Dryas occurred during this time, from ca. 12,850–11,450 B.P., a major return to cold conditions whose onset appears to have occurred quite quickly, within a few years or decades (Hughen et al. 1998), and something that probably had a major impact on local cultures, as variously suggested in this chapter. A major radiocarbon plateau occurs during this interval, making the 800 radiocarbon "years" of the terminal Paleoindian era closer to 1400 calendar years. This greater span of time is more realistic given the dramatic changes in culture and biota that took place.

A wide range of projectile point forms appear and disappear in various parts of the continent during the terminal Paleoindian era, something that was puzzling prior to the recognition of the amount of time involved. Terminal Paleoindian point forms exhibit appreciable stylistic variability and in some cases fairly restricted spatial distributions, something interpreted as evidence for increasing regionalization or isolation of groups as population levels rose and group mobility decreased. The subperiod is interpreted as one in which regional and subregional cultural traditions became established, population levels grew dramatically, and technological organization changed to accommodate Holocene climate and biota (Anderson 1990a, 1995a, 1996; Ellis et al. 1998; Morse et al. 1996). The subsequent initial Holocene or Early Archaic period in the East is dated from 11,200 to 8,800 B.P. (10,000 to 8,000 rcbp). The beginning and ending dates correspond, roughly, to the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary and the onset of the Hypsithermal warming episode (Harland et al. 1982:44; Stoltman 1978:714). The 10,000 rcbp has long been in use, primarily because it is a distinctive and convenient number, and because a calibrated calendrical chronology simply did not exist until quite recently. However, no great changes in either climate or culture occur at this time, or after ca. 11,450 B.P. almost 1500 years earlier than the date implied using radiocarbon chronology. The end of the Younger Dryas and a return to warmer conditions, in fact, occurred about a century or two prior to this. It is suggested here that the end of the Younger Dryas may ultimately prove a more appropriate ending date for the Paleoindian era.

Geography and Environmental Conditions

During the period of presumed initial human settlement of Eastern North America, some time after the glacial maximum ca. 21,000 years ago, the Coastal Plain in many areas was almost twice its present size due to lowered sea levels. The Great Lakes did not exist, and in fact their locations were under massive ice sheets, which reached far into the United States, to the vicinity of the Ohio River in the Midwest and across almost all of New York and New England in the Northeast. Sea levels rose and fell dramatically in the Late Pleistocene, with vast areas alternately submerged and exposed, something that almost certainly profoundly affected early human settlement.

Plant and animal communities underwent profound changes during the Late Pleistocene, Paleoindian era. No modern analogs are known to exist for the plant and animal communities that were present in the region during the Late Pleistocene. Over 30 genera of large mammals that were present became extinct at the end of the Late Pleistocene era in North America, including animals such as dire wolves, saber-toothed tigers, giant ground sloths, horses, camels, mammoths, and mastodons (Martin 1984:361–363). While the hunting, butchering, and working of bone and ivory from large Pleistocene animals, the so-called megafauna, has been documented at a number of locations, the extent to which human predation contributed to these extinctions is unknown and subject to appreciable debate among archaeologists. Given that upwards of ten previous glacial cycles occurred earlier in the Pleistocene without any comparable extinctions, however, it is hard to imagine that humans did not have some impact (Diamond 1999:47). Great changes also occurred in the distribution and composition of vegetational communities over the region (Webb et al. 1993). In the Southeast, for example, while an oak-hickory hardwood forest was present during the glacial maximum across much of the lower part of the region, cold adapted northern tree species like spruce were present well into the midsouth in the interior, and on the Atlantic seaboard as far south as central South Carolina. As the climate warmed, these plant species spread north or died out locally.

Rapid glacial retreat in the north began during the Bolling, after ca. 14,500 B.P. (12,600 rcbp), and continued with comparatively minor fluctuations until the sudden onset of the Younger Dryas cold interval around 12,850 B.P. (10,900 rcbp). Assuming initial human entry occurred sometime during the Bolling, groups along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts would have been faced with a vast but slowly shrinking Coastal Plain, whose shoreline would be trending inland, save for comparatively minor movements in the other direction, during events like the Older Dryas (ca. 14,100–14,000 B.P.; 12,100–11,950 rcbp) and the Inter-Allerod Cold Period (ca. 13,400–13,150 B.P.; 11,400–11,100 rcbp). Likewise, groups in the upper Midwest and Northeast would have been faced with changes in the location of shorelines for glacial great lakes and, in the northeast, maritime incursions like the Champlain/Goldthwait seas. Clovis technology apparently appeared and spread widely during and immediately following the Inter-Allerod Cold Period, and had diversified into a number of subregional variants by or shortly after the start of the Younger Dryas (Fiedel 1999, 2000).

The Younger Dryas, from ca. 12,850–11,450 B.P. (ca. 10,900–10,100 rcbp), was a sudden and major return to colder conditions and dramatic climatic variability. Onset occurred almost instantaneously, within no more than ca. 10 to 40 years, well within the span of a human lifetime (Bjorck et al. 1996:1159; Graftenstein et al. 1999; Hughen et al. 1998). The changes in global climate that occurred during the Younger Dryas appear to have had a profound effect on both biota and human culture. 12,750 B.P. (10,800 rcbp), shortly after its onset, is the ending date assigned to both the megafaunal extinctions and the Paleoindian Clovis culture (Fiedel 1999; Grayson 1987; Mead and Meltzer 1984:447; Meltzer and Mead 1983; Taylor et al. 1996). The demise of key prey species, assuming megafaunal exploitation was an integral part of the Clovis adaptation, likely created appreciable subsistence uncertainty for human groups. These changes may have forced peoples to intensify the procurement of subsistence resources in smaller package sizes. This would have in turn almost certainly lessened the need for long-distance movement, and led to the increasing differentiation in assemblages observed at this time. That is, patterns of group movement over great distances to exploit presumably widely dispersed large sized prey packages changed, after the onset of the Younger Dryas, to more localized movements directed toward a wider range of smaller prey packages.

Increased use of plant foods may have also been brought about by these inferred changes in hunting strategies. If prey packages were smaller, they may have been less reliable on a regular basis, mandating experimentation and use of a wide array of resources. When first line resources were unavailable for whatever reason, early populations likely ate whatever was available, necessitating experimentation and the gradual expansion of knowledge about subsistence opportunities. These developments are traditionally assumed to have occurred over the course of the subsequent Archaic stage (e.g., Caldwell 1958); in all likelihood, however, they began well back in the Paleoindian era (Curran and Dincauze 1977; Meltzer 1984a, 1988, 1993; Meltzer and Smith 1986; Walker 1997). As Late Pleistocene climatic events become better dated and their impacts on climate and physiography better understood, it is crucial that this information is used to interpret the archaeological record (Fiedel 1999; Haynes 1993; Taylor et al. 1996).

Paleoindian habitats have no strict analogues. Yet Midwestern Paleoindian habitats were roughly similar to modern ones found much further north. To some extent, the northern Midwest passed gradually from high Arctic to tundra to Subarctic conditions during the Paleoindian period. Further south glacial effects were attenuated but nevertheless felt. Very broadly, then, a modern latitudinal gradient from northern Minnesota to the Arctic Ocean encompasses some of the environmental variation that, at Pleistocene's end, was squeezed into the northern Midwest.

Landforms also differed. Today, the Great Lakes seem fixed and permanent. Yet their current form was set only within the past three millennia. If we recall their origins as, essentially, large lakes left behind by Pleistocene glaciers, we understand how the Great Lakes' extent and shorelines varied through time at Pleistocene's end. For the pre-13,500 B.P. period, the Michigan-Huron basin was occupied by a series of periglacial lakes higher than the modern level. A brief low stage was followed at the approximate start of the 13,500-10,800 B.P. period by Main Lake Algonquin, slightly higher than the modern lake levels. Later this high stage fell abruptly, exposing vast landscapes previously inundated. Then, the Great Lakes were smaller and Great Lakes states, especially Michigan, had much more land than they do now. The slow rise to the Nipissing high of ca. 6,000 B.P., reaching the earlier Algonquin stage, began during the terminal Paleoindian period.

Like the Midwest, the Paleoindian archaeological record of the Northeast region was profoundly reshaped during the Late Pleistocene. First the Atlantic Ocean rose, flooding across the Block Island Channel north of Long Island. The sea levels then dropped leaving a broad plain stretching many miles east of today's coastline. At the same time, large seas ("Champlain/Goldthwait Seas") filled the ice-depressed St. Lawrence lowland as far inland as western Vermont. It is likely that Paleoindians fishing and hunting sea mammals left sites on these once coastal but now high and dry or deeply drowned lands. The Younger Dryas climate reversal was very strongly expressed in the Northeast, where the temperate vegetation pulled back from its earlier northern limits, thereby reducing the biotic diversity on which people in the northeast once relied, just as archeology can demonstrate for Paleoindians farther west.

With the possible exception of eastern Beringia, no area of North America confronted people with greater challenges and opportunities than the northeast. River drainages were adapting to newly deglaciated landforms; large expanses of former glacial lake floors were filled by poorly drained swamps, and rivers running to the sea cut deeply into shore sediments. What is today New England was almost isolated from land areas to the west, almost a peninsula pendant from Vermont, with the deep Hudson trough carrying massive drainage by the deeply entrenched Hudson River carrying vast amounts of meltwater. Maine east of the Penobscot was apparently uninhabited, but the Maritime Provinces of Canada saw some use by Paleoindians. Although the Canadian Maritime Provinces were used by Paleoindians east of the Penobscot River, Maine seems not to have been occupied. Mammoths were apparently extinct in the region before the Younger Dryas, while mastodonts died out just before or soon after people appeared. The only "Big Game" were cervids--elk, caribou, moose, white tail deer. The only large herbivores were elk, caribou, moose or white tail deer and the herds of caribou modeled for Ontario do not appear to have been present southeasterly at this time. North of the marine incursion lay St. Lawrence lowland seas, the waning Laurentide Ice Sheet affected climate in both summer and winter, partly offsetting the increased solar insolation of the time.

Interregional Comparisons

The three regional syntheses that follow, when compared, indicate that there were both appreciable similarities and differences between each area, both in the nature of the Paleoindian archaeological record, and in the kinds of climatic and biotic changes that were occurring, over the course of the Paleoindian era. These changes within Eastern North America, furthermore, exhibit similarities and differences with Paleoindian occupations in other parts of the Americas (e.g., Bonnichsen and Turnmire, eds., 1999).

One thing is immediately clear about the Paleoindian archaeological record in the Eastern United States when compared with other parts of the Americas, and that is that it is far more extensive than perhaps traditionally assumed. The vast majority of fluted points documented to date in the 48 contiguous United States, for example, come from the East (Anderson and Faught 1998, 2000; see Table 2). Although fluting is sometimes considered a Great Plains Paleoindian tradition, there are far more of these artifacts in the East than in the West, and particularly in the Southeast. It has been suggested, in fact, that fluting technology probably originated somewhere in the Southeast or Midwest (Mason 1962).

Great variability in what is termed Paleoindian occurs over the Eastern United States. The Northeast Paleoindian culture area, for example, contrasts least with the Midwest and adjacent Canada, and most strongly with the Southeast. In very broad terms, two differing adaptational systems are thought to have been present in the East by some researchers. An earlier model consists of specialized hunters in the Northeast and upper Midwest, exploiting herd animals like caribou, and more generalized foragers in the Southeast, exploiting a wide array of resources (Meltzer 1988). More recent studies deal with considerably different strategies. Although Québec has no fluted point sites, Atlantic Canada and southern Ontario were contiguous territories for northeastern makers of fluted points and the lanceolate successors. The Great Lakes lowland and the St. Lawrence seas and lakes were major travel and transport routes into the Northeast; lying as they did just south of the Laurentide Ice Sheet they formed an influential limit on Paleoindian colonization of eastern North America. Canadian sites, geological dating, and tool typologies dominate Northeastern and Midwestern archaeology, but have been little noted or appreciated in the Southeast. The Debert, Nova Scotia site study (MacDonald 1968) was particularly influential in shaping the interpretation of northeastern Paleoindian culture; the monograph remains one of the finest Paleoindian site reports ever produced.

People moving into the uniquely dynamic environment of the northern lakes had to learn quickly how best to use the rapidly changing, often unpredictable ecology. They had to abandon skills and assumptions they relied on to the west and south. Initial recognition of these constraints on Paleoindians (e.g., Dincauze 1981c) was based on awareness of ecological patchiness. The dismissal of the constraints set northeastern Late Pleistocene studies into dead end debates for nearly two decades; the Northeast became viewed as marginal, a judgment unearned by Paleoindian behavior, and the rich local archaeological record. Once overextension of the "Clovis" terminology is abandoned, comparison of northeastern sites and cultural behavior is likely to be increasingly made to the Midwest, as differences in material culture and economies are seen more clearly to the south. It may eventually be possible to deal fully with the apparent delay in occupation of the glacial border areas of the continent. The Southeast takes prominence in comparisons in terminal Paleoindian times, when lanceolate bifaces were moved northeastward from both the northern Prairies and from Dalton and related cultures, and most definitively in the early Holocene as Early Archaic lifeways, exemplified by side and corner notched point traditions, extended northward. The resulting Cis-Appalachian Archaic cultural sphere apparently interrupted cultural influences from the west for several millennia.

Strong seasonal climate and the rarity of cave and rockshelter sites have made organic remains extremely scarce in the Northeast. Consequently, the status of claims for very early, Initial Paleoindian era sites cannot be evaluated. Research on Paleoindians in the Northeast is today colored by the extreme patchiness of environmental variables including knappable tool stones, by the private landholdings that characterize the area along with its early industrialization and intensive agriculture, and by the near invisibility of Native Americans until the last third of the twentieth century when consultation became possible and necessary. In addition, comparison with other areas has been delayed because of contrasting cultural histories north and south in the region. Especially in terminal Paleoindian and Early Archaic times, these differences have confounded comparisons.

What is needed are careful comparisons of settlement systems, site assemblages, and specific artifact types between differing parts of the East. At the present, for example, we do not have a good understanding of the chronological and possible cultural meaning of morphological variability within even the most classic Paleoindian artifact category, fluted points. It is clear that appreciable variability in the size and shape of fluted points exists within and between parts of Eastern North Americas, but with few exceptions (e.g., Meltzer 1984b), little systematic comparative investigation of the projectile point data that exists has been attempted.


Due to the general scarcity of Paleoindian materials, and the comparatively little that is known about these occupations, every effort should be made to increase knowledge of this period, and to preserve the information that remains. In this section a number of observations and explicit recommendations are advanced that can greatly improve our ability to locate, evaluate, understand, and preserve Paleoindian historic properties. These include expanding current efforts to locate and record Paleoindian artifacts, establishing procedures to systematically record materials in private collections, reanalyzing early professional archeological collections, preserving significant sites through National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark designation, acquisition, or site stewardship programs, and standardizing the archaeological literature, site, and collections data in and between states.

The recording of information about Paleoindian artifacts in the Eastern United States has been and continues to be a largely voluntary, successful and noteworthy collaboration between avocational and professional archaeologists. This effort has tended to focus on fluted projectile points. With the exception of a few states, little effort has been made to record later Paleoindian notched or unfluted lanceolate points, and efforts directed to other possible artifact types have focused on rare or unusual tool forms, such as the Edgefield scraper (Michie 1968, 1972). Professional archaeologists working on National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA 1966 as amended, Section 106) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA 1969 as amended) compliance projects, or applying for state or federal grants should be encouraged to systematically document Paleoindian artifacts as they encounter them, and submit this data to central repositories in each state. In most states, information about Paleoindian artifacts is usually compiled by one or a few dedicated individuals, who examine the literature and collections. Ideally, such activities should be incorporated under the duties of state archaeological authorities, or undertaken voluntarily by teams of local professionals or avocationals. An exceptional example of this kind of team multidisciplinary research effort, engaged in the compilation of Late Pleistocene archaeological and paleoenvironmental data, is that underway for the Northeast, with data available in electronic form (Bradley 2001; Newby 2001).

Another type of activity that would greatly improve our knowledge of Paleoindian occupations would be the re-analysis of collections from earlier professional archaeological projects for evidence of Paleoindian components. A particular focus for research would be the poorly reported materials gathered by projects such as the Smithsonian Institution's River Basin Survey projects. Measurements were only rarely provided for Paleoindian artifacts found during many of these projects, and in some cases, given the period in which this research took place, the antiquity of many of the specimens was not even recognized.

Avocational participation in the recording of Paleoindian diagnostics should also be strongly encouraged. Millions of Indian artifacts are in the hands of private collectors. These collections should be examined by either professional or knowledgeable avocational archaeologists for the presence of Paleoindian artifacts. When such artifacts are found they should be documented through measurement, drawing, and photography, with the resulting data curated at a responsible institution, and with a form filled out and filed with the state Paleoindian artifact survey project. Site forms should be completed for locations producing these diagnostics, and these locations should be visited and their conditions verified by someone with archaeological training. Such data can be useful for distributional and settlement analyses, as noted, and they can also be used to examine effects of collector activity, artifact visibility, and land use patterns (Lepper 1983a, b, 1985; Seeman and Prufer 1982, 1984). Care must attend the recording of private collection data, however, given the increasing number of replicas manufactured and sold to satisfy the antiquities market.

A limited amount of collections analysis is undertaken by members of the professional archaeological community. The amount of material in private hands is so great, however, that only a tiny fraction is ever examined. Most of the remaining artifacts are either lost, destroyed, or sold, and in almost every case once they have passed out of the discoverers' hands their context, and hence scientific usefulness, is lost. Collectors must be taught, through programs of public outreach, the importance of the materials they own. Booklets identifying key projectile point types, and particularly Paleoindian forms, together with instructions on how to document or donate such materials to state or university collections, could be produced to encourage this effort.

Reliable data on the nature and occurrence of Paleoindian assemblages is crucial to effective management and research. Compiling information about Paleoindian assemblages is a major task, and requires that at least one person or ideally a team in each state or region conscientiously reviews and compiles information about these occupations. Typically, such projects start out as artifact recording projects, of which “fluted point surveys” are the best known. In no state, at present, is information about other Paleoindian artifact categories systematically recorded. Such work is crucial, however, and must be encouraged.

Information about Paleoindian site locations is routinely done by state site file managers. When coupled with detailed information about the kinds of artifacts found at each site, and particularly the periods of occupation represented by these artifacts, site file data can be used to generate distributional maps. When site locational data is incorporated into a GIS with a range of data layers, encompassing natural resources, hydrology, geology, and so on, this information can be further used to develop and test various models of site location and prehistoric settlement. Perhaps the finest example of this type of data compilation and analysis effort to date has been conducted in northeast Arkansas. There, in a test of existing Paleoindian settlement models, Gillam (1996a, 1996b, n.d.) plotted the distribution of Middle and Terminal Paleoindian fluted point and Dalton sites on the landscape. This research has generated a wealth of new insight into the kinds of resources that appear to have been targeted by these peoples, and how settlement changed over time. Critical to such analyses, however, will be having accurate data on the nature of the Paleoindian assemblages present on sites. While site file records are computerized in most states, the quality of this data varies appreciably (e.g., Anderson and Horak 1995).

To produce useful overviews of Paleoindian resources, greater effort directed to data collection and standardization will be needed. Thus, while at present it is simply not possible to easily generate more than a few distribution maps for major Paleoindian sites or artifact categories, it is possible to generate such maps in a number of states. As site file records improve, however, producing nationwide maps should prove increasingly feasible, and should serve as a major focus for research. As an aside, until Paleoindian sites are well published, they can contribute little to our understanding.

As part of this effort, a comprehensive search of the archaeological literature for mention of Paleoindian artifacts should be conducted, and the location of these artifacts determined. This information should be compiled and consolidated electronically and incorporated into a GIS. Given the vast number of unpublished CRM reports, and the masses of manuscripts, notes, and other project records in state, university, and private repositories, many of which are all but inaccessible, this will be an extended task. Such activity will eventually need to be undertaken, however, for evidence about Paleoindian as well as subsequent occupations. Paleoindian artifacts identified as the result of such a survey should be located and their curatorial disposition noted, and then they should be measured and photographed, with the resulting data entered into the Paleoindian artifact recording project files. Updated information from all of these kinds of data gathering activities should also be appended to state site forms, or used to generate new forms.

A number of strategies can be used to preserve significant Paleoindian sites. First, National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark nominations should be prepared for significant sites. Second, the professional and avocational archaeological community should encourage and support the criminal prosecution of individuals who loot archaeological sites or knowingly excavate human remains on public or private lands. If existing statutes fail to address these activities, corrective legislation should be prepared and presented before state legislatures. Owners of archaeological sites should be encouraged to prosecute looters, and members of the avocational and professional archaeological community should be willing, if called upon, to provide testimony about the destructive consequences of this kind of activity. Third, educational programs should be initiated that are directed toward instilling a conservation/preservation ethic among the nation’s citizens. A segment on prehistory should be taught at the grade school and again at the high school level as a part of social studies and history classes. Fourth, states may wish to consider adopting a state landmark program, like the program currently in operation in Kentucky, where private landowners agree to preserve significant sites on their property (Henderson 1989). Such state programs would complement the NHL process, and assist in the collection of information needed to proceed with NHL nominations.

So few significant Paleoindian sites are known to exist that their acquisition and permanent protection should be considered whenever possible. Such sites could be purchased by state or local governments for use as parks or wildlife management areas, or by private organizations such as the Archaeological Conservancy or the Nature Conservancy, and maintained by these groups. If acquisition occurs, management of the property must be such as to preclude the possibility of looting. Provisions for regular monitoring should be set in place, and criminal proceedings should be brought against individuals found trespassing or excavating on the property. Programs for professional archaeological investigations at acquired sites, furthermore, should be conducted only by individuals and organizations meeting the highest professional standards. Every SHPO has published explicit standards by which archaeological research is to proceed, and specific standards for Paleoindian sites have been included with some of the historic contexts that have been produced.

The specific recommendations advanced above should be implemented as soon as possible by the professional and avocational archaeological communities. We must never lose sight of the fact that the primary objective of this research is to shed light on the human groups that left these remains behind. The Paleoindian inhabitants of the Eastern United States are among the least understood of its occupants. Their proper investigation, therefore, is one of our greatest challenges.





chronological considerations

table 1

temporal and cultural subdivisions

geography and environmental conditions

interregional comparisons

table 2



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