Earliest Americans
Theme Study--DRAFT

Originally posted at the following address:

Southeast Project Area
Historic Context

David G. Anderson




 Geography and  Environmental Conditions  

 Chronological  Considerations 

 Initial Human Occupation 

 Widespread Settlement 

 Terminal Paleoindian  Occupations 

 Initial Holocene Early  Archaic Assemblages 

 Property Types 

 Resource Distribution 

 Research Needs and  Questions 

 Evaluation Criteria 

 Possible NHLs in the  Southeast 


 Annotated References 

 References Cited 


The Southeastern United States is a critical area for understanding early human occupation in the New World. Diagnostic Late Pleistocene era artifacts have been found in large numbers and on a wide range of site types, indicating the region was intensively occupied. The numbers of Paleoindian projectile points found in the Southeast are so high, and their morphological variation so great, in fact, that the region may have been among the earliest settled, and was unquestionably a center of technological and social innovation and differentiation throughout the period. Clear evidence for occupational continuity through time has been found in several areas, giving the region one of the best documented records in the New World of the changes that occurred during the transition from fluted to non-fluted industries. Major concentrations of Paleoindian sites and artifacts occur along the major drainages of the Midsouth and near quarry areas on the Gulf and Atlantic slopes, while other areas such as portions of the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain have produced far fewer sites and artifacts, and hence appear to have been less intensively occupied or exploited throughout the period. Settlement and subsistence systems in the region, while the subject of innovative analysis, description and modeling, however, are still not well understood. We do not know whether Paleoindian populations were highly specialized hunters who regularly targeted megafauna, perhaps contributing to their extinction, or more generalized foragers who made use of a wide range of resources, or (more probably, as need dictated) both. Likewise, while sites and assemblages are widespread after 13,500 years ago, and evidence suggesting even older occupations has been found at several sites, we still do not know when people entered the region.

How archaeological evidence about the earliest inhabitants of the Southeast is recognized, analyzed, and managed in the exploration and evaluation of these kinds of questions is a goal of this regional context. The National Historic Landmark (NHL) and National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) status of southeastern archaeological sites depends on their utility for answering such questions. As our database about southeastern Paleoindian archaeology has expanded, so too have efforts to manage and organize the information. Historic contexts encompassing the Paleoindian archaeological record have been produced in a number of southeastern states, including Arkansas (Davis 1982), Florida (Dunbar n.d.), Georgia (Anderson et al. 1990), Kentucky (Tankersley 1990a), Louisiana (Smith et al. 1983), Mississippi (McGahey n.d.), South Carolina (Anderson and Sassaman 1992; Anderson et al., eds., 1992), Tennessee (Broster 1987), and Virginia (Wittkofski and Reinhart, eds., 1989), and also for the entire region (Anderson et al., eds., 1992; Barnes n.d.). These studies range from detailed, monograph-length presentations of primary data, research approaches, and management strategies in Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina, to more limited position papers or outlines in the remaining states. All of these documents, however, are fundamental guides to research design and resource management in their respective states. This regional context is designed to synthesize, and complement, the results of this earlier work.

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