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North America
Pleistocene/Holocene Transition – Paleoindian
Dramatic climatic changes at the close of the Pleistocene resulted in extinctions as well as fundamental reorganization of ecological communities some 13,000 years ago (11,000 rcybp). It was during this period that the vast region recognized today as the Great Plains developed. Expansion of grassland dominated environments and rapid increase in bison populations, filling the niche left by the extinction of other grazing herbivores such as mammoth, horses, and camels, set the stage for the first human groups to utilize the Plains environment. These Paleoindian people, as archaeologists refer to them, developed economic, technological, and social systems well suited to the mobile life of pedestrian bison hunting. Investigations of the bison kill sites and campsites of these early peoples have resulted in development of substantial collections in the ARC. This fieldwork and research extends back to 1895 with work at the 12 Mile Creek site in Logan County. Numerous other sites and collections also reflect varied studies of bones, stone artifacts, and sediments at the sites of these earliest people of the Great Plains. Collections from various research projects and field schools which have focused on this period include Waugh, Howard Gully, and the Bethel Locality, Oklahoma; Lipscomb and Shifting Sands in Texas; and Norton, Winger, Gardiner, Burntwood Creek, Claussen,

Vincent-Donovan, and the Kanorado locality in Kansas.  The degree of mobility in the central Plains during this time is reflected in part by the movement of lithic materials.  The long distance movement of high-quality cherts is characteristic of Plains Paleoindian adaptations, as noted by the recovery of raw materials from sources thousands of miles from the western Kansas localities.

Investigations at these sites has been the focus of both KU Anthropology Department fieldschools and Odyssey Geomorphology fieldschools over the past 10 years.  Combined, these approaches have documented ancient land surfaces that date to Early and Middle Holocene time periods and direct evidence of cultural occupations.  Sites are identified as bison kill localities, habitation areas, and combinations of both.  The distribution of sites across the central High Plains, dating from ca 12,000 to 9000 BP, demonstrates a greater density of sites than previously known.  Data from the habitation sites provides a greater appreciation of the complexity and diversity in the adaptations; data that is often lacking from kill sites.

Holocene Hunters and Gatherers - Archaic
Environmental differences between the western short grass plains and the tall grass prairies became more significant with the development of the Holocene period, so it is not surprising that variability in adaptations becoming increasingly evident during the Archaic period.  It is during this time period that archaeologists recognize a profound difference in the adaptation and overall life style between groups in the western plains and those in the eastern prairies. Some of the western Plains Archaic complexes had economic strategies that, at least during some seasons and years, were comparable to those of the earlier Paleoindian hunters.  In the eastern part of the Plains, diverse landforms with an increasing drier, warmer and more variable climate with a more seasonal distribution of rainfall and greater variability in seasonal temperatures were characteristic of the mid to late Holocene. Eastern Archaic complexes exhibit different land-use patterns, technological assemblages, and overall economies. Most Archaic sites have chipped stone assemblages dominated by local cherts, reflecting a more focused use of resources.  At the same time, there appears a greater variability in projectile point styles with a many styles having notched, stemmed or flaring bases.

With a decrease in mobility and an increased use of local resources, research is providing more evidence for the etiology of such processes as sedentism and horticulture.  Evidence for temporary structures (post mold stains and shallow basins) are noted from several sites in the eastern prairies.  In this region, the economic focus was on local animals and plants, with remains of deer, small mammals, fish, waterfowl, and various nuts and weedy annuals commonly identified from excavations. Plants such as grape, sunflower, goosefoot, and wild squash often dominate the floral assemblage.  The extensive use of the latter three species may signal an early stage in the eventual domestication of these native species.

The construction of large earth ovens seems to be an innovation associated with the Archaic. Research over the past 30 years (although recently significantly heightened) has identified several early to late Holocene adaptations within the tall grass prairie region and adjacent areas to the east. Exposed by migrating streams, these deposits (often identified by the exposed hearths) are deeply buried and associated with well-dated soil horizons.  Several sites exhibit repeated occupations by groups that exploited seasonally available freshwater mussels, small mammals, fish and plants that thrived in the disturbed soils surrounding the occupation.  By 5000BP, the first ceramics (effigies) are noted in several of these sites and by 2000BP, the first ceramic pottery is present.

Kansas City Hopewell and Plains Woodland
From approximately 500BC to AD 1000, the central Plains was home to ceramic making groups who were becoming increasingly sedentary and were progressively adopting agriculture.  The term Woodland is used to collectively define these groups, a term borrowed from the Eastern Woodlands to reflect similarities in ceramic styles and lithic technologies.  On the central Plains however, Woodland cultures likely evolved from earlier Archaic populations whose adaptations increased in complexity from communication and sharing of concepts with populations along the major waterways as well as from Eastern contacts.  Variability in ceramic styles, stone tool production, burial patterns, trade networks, subsistence choices, and spatial and temporal existence help identify the different Woodland cultures that existed during this 1500 years.

The best-known Woodland culture in the central Plains is the Kansas City Hopewell, from which most data come from sites in the vicinity of present day Kansas City. Radiocarbon dates from sites such as Young (23PL4), Aker (23PL43), Desiter (23PL2), Trowbridge (14WY1), Quarry Creek (14LV401) and Kelley (14DP10) suggest a fairly intense occupation from ca.AD 1 to 700.  Major settlements in various ecological settings focused on resources associated with the Missouri or Kansas Rivers, major tributaries, and intermittent backwater niches. The Kansas City Hopewell culture is known for its distinctive pottery, diagnostic projectile point styles, elaborate burial practices, participation in long-distance trade for exotic materials, and successful adaptation to the oak-hickory forest/eastern prairies ecotone.  The conical shaped ceramics often exhibit decorated rims (with cross hatched lines, rows of punctates or embossing, and crenulated marks across the lip) and bodies with rocker stamped lines. The most common projectile point styles are broad or narrow-bladed corner-notched dart points. By the latter part of the Kansas City Hopewell, smaller corner notched styles emerged and are believed to have signaled the adoption of the bow and arrow. Local Permian and Pennsylvanian  cherts were commonly selected for the manufacture of stone tools, although exotic materials such as obsidian from Wyoming, copper from the Great Lakes, and conch shells from the Gulf coast were traded in and made into items presumably associated with high-status individuals. Slab lined burial cists or chambers were constructed for single interments, usually men, also suggesting some form of social ranking.  Given the sizes of the habitation sites and the duration of the complex, some have suggested that the Hopewell experienced huge population expansions and must have relied on agriculture for a primary food source.  Years of research in the Kansas City area, as well as Hopewell in Illinois and Ohio, have convincingly demonstrated that agricultural foods consisted of indigenous weedy annuals (marshelder, sunflower, goosefoot) and introduced domesticated squash, with very small amount of maize recovered. Although important in the diet, the agricultural crops are often sparsely represented in the subsistence assemblage, suggesting that they did not dominate the economy.  Instead, the populations relied on a variety of nuts, fruits, weedy annuals (both starchy and oily seeds), and hunted deer, smaller game, fish, and migratory waterfowl.

Between 1967 and 2002, University of Kansas field crews and summer fieldschools excavated several Kansas City Hopewell habitation sites. Today, most of the large sites are destroyed by urban expansion, with existing collections providing a base for on-going research.  Recent surveys along river valleys in eastern Kansas have also provided excellent evidence for the presence of Kansas City Hopewell well west of their primary zone, suggesting that we may not have a full understanding of the spatial (or temporal) distribution of this culture or its influence on other groups residing in the central Plains during this time.

Around A.D.600, evidence of another Woodland oriented adaptation is recognized throughout the central Plains.  While these cultures must have been in contact with the Kansas City Hopewell, the dynamics of any interaction remains unclear. These cultures are collectively referred to as Plains Woodland and are best described as semi-sedentary groups (probably nuclear families or kin groups) who utilized both dart and arrow points, manufactured mainly undecorated cord-roughened ceramics, hunted and fished within short distances from their habitations, gathered a wide variety of wild plants and nuts, and incorporated several new cultigens into their diet.  In particular, the quantity of maize from Plains Woodland increases significantly, with a corresponding increase in grinding stones and cache pits.  Subsistence choices, along with attendant changes in settlement patterns, social organization, and political structure made during the Plains Woodland period laid the foundation for what many archaeologists refer to as the “agricultural explosion” identified by following adaptations.

Central Plains Tradition
The Central Plains tradition dates to the period of about AD 900-1400 and sites occur over a large area that includes the valleys of the Missouri River in northeast Kansas, northwest Missouri, eastern Nebraska and southwestern Iowa; the Kansas River basin of north-central Kansas and southern Nebraska.  Once described as a “full-blown” site unit intrusion from an unidentified source to the south and east, the origin of the Central Plains tradition now can be viewed as the cultural response to the intensification of farming.  From early cultivation of native squash during the Archaic period to the adoption of maize during Woodland times, Central Plains tradition farming included the growing of native crops (sunflower, marshelder, goosefoot, and little barley) and the introduced crops of maize, squash and beans.  Although not a food source, tobacco was also part of the domesticated suite of plants.  Agricultural tools, notably the bison scapula hoe, are very common while large storage pits capable of holding up to 40 bushels of grain, are associated with habitation sites.

Central Plains tradition subsistence originally was characterized in broad terms by a dominance of bison hunting and horticulture. Semi-annual communal bison hunts and a focus on maize agriculture were considered to be the primary economic adaptive systems. Current research has demonstrated that this dual economy is a gross over generalization. Floral and faunal remains instead suggest a rich and diverse farming, hunting, and gathering economy.  Differences among the sites are noted and often explained as a response to ecological settings and resource availability, attention to seasonally abundant foods, periodic climatic fluctuations, and prepared back-up strategies that could be used in times of stress. The attendant material culture changes reflect not the adoption of a cultural complex from an external source, but rather the technological and social adjustments to the demands of the new food production system. The transition also was marked by increased sedentism; the construction of planned, durable housing; and a greater investment in facilities, including private storage facilities. Communal burial sites have been recorded for the various complexes within the Central Plains tradition.

The basic residential unit was a rectangular to nearly square, or occasionally circular, pole-and-beam lodge with a single central hearth and cylindrical to bell-shaped cache pits. These lodges are referred to as earthlodges.  Prior to modern farming techniques, the remains of these earthlodges were visible as surface depressions, a fact that also made the sites easy targets for non-professional excavations.  Today, it is difficult to locate Central Plains tradition sites with remaining integrity, increasing the research significance of curated materials. Some of the more systematic Central Plains tradition collections at the Archaeological Research Center include the Budenbender (14PO4), Mugler (14CY1), Rush Creek (14GE127) and 14CY102 sites from Kansas, which represent the Smoky Hill phase.  The Steed-Kisker phase is represented by the Steed-Kisker (23PL13) and Cloverdale (23BN2) sites in Missouri. Although populations assigned to these two phases exhibited similar adaptations, they produced very different pottery and selected different raw material for tool manufacture.  In particular, Steed-Kisker pottery is largely decorated and tempered with burned and crushed shell while Smoky Hill phase ceramics exhibit a higher proportion of cord-roughened surfaces and various rim and neck decorations.

Late Prehistoric
For reasons not yet fully known, the successful adaptation of the Central Plains tradition disappeared from the central Plains around AD 1350 – 1400.  Archaeological research indicates that groups began to coalesce in several areas on the Great Plains at this time.  Most of the sites in the central Plains show no evidence for defensive architecture, indicating that warfare was not the cause for this reorganization. Sites assigned to the Great Bend aspect (proto-Wichita), Dismal River (perhaps ancestral Apache) and Oneota (possibly ancestral Kansa) are found in central and south-central Kansas, north-central Kansas, and northeastern Kansas respectively and date to ca. AD1450 – 1750.  This late prehistoric period ends with the first evidence for European contact, noted by the scattered presence of items from several archaeological sites that were manufactured in Europe.

Great Bend sites, known from central Kansas, in the vicinity of present-day Lyons, Kansas and eastward to McPherson county, date to ca AD1450 to 1600.  Research and material culture remains documents that this was the location visited by Coronado in AD 1541.  Slightly later in time is another group of Great Bend sites in the lower Walnut River Valley of south-central Kansas.  Archaeological work in both areas has disclosed remains of large dwellings constructed of pole and grass thatching, central plaza areas, large trash middens, deep storage pits, and evidence for the presence of an extensive trade network.   Subsistence focused on hunting of both local animals as well as periodic forays to the High Plains for bison kills.  Farming and gathering remained significant to the economy, although the diverse farming strategy developed during the earlier Central Plains tradition was replaced with an emphasis on maize and a significant reduction to abandonment of the use of native cultigens.  By the late 1500s –early 1600s, different species of squash grown by the Puebloan Indians of the Rio Grande valley were introduced into the central Plains.  A century later, domesticated watermelon, which had been carried into the New World by the Spanish, is recovered from Dismal River sites located in western Kansas.

Euro-American settlements in Kansas and the Kansas City vicinity complement the largely prehistoric Native American materials.  Collections from the 19th century town of Chelsea, Kansas, the 19th century Longview Mansion (Missouri) and surrounding buildings, and the mid-19th century Town of Kansas (birthplace of Kansas City, MO) are some of the more significant historic collections curated in the Archaeological Research Center. In particular, archaeological investigations at the Town of Kansas (23JA422), conducted from 1991 – 1993, provided substantial evidence of the earliest settlement along the Missouri River that would eventually develop into a major metropolitan city.  Originally settled by the French as a fur-trading post, this location witnessed significant increases in populations and activities as Missouri became a state and the area was platted for commerce.  Steamboats docked at the Town of Kansas and unloaded supplies to outfit overland wagons as well as the needs of a growing western frontier town.  As the population increased and businesses prospered, the river-edge settlement was abandoned in favor of extensive lands up the bluffs and to the south.  Over time, the first settlement became buried with debris from the subsequent developments.

Central and South America – Pre-Columbian

Ceramic and stone artifacts, representative of cultures from locations in Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela form the Pre-Columbian collections at the ARC.  With a few exceptions, most of these collections are the result of donations.  Although not systematic in nature, these artifacts provide valuable information on the  manner of ceramic manufacture, the extent of decoration, representation of various human or animal activities or iconography, and stylistic expression.  Recent research on the collections and a review of each collection history, has produced a comprehensive database that has served to attract scholars from other institutions and prospective graduate students to the University of Kansas.