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Title: Mountains as crossroads : temporal and spatial patterns of high elevation activity in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, USA
Author: Reckin, Rachel Jean
ISNI:       0000 0004 7426 5802
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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In the archaeological literature, mountains are often portrayed as the boundaries between inhabited spaces. Yet occupying high elevations may have been an adaptive choice for ancient peoples, as rapidly changing elevations also offer variation in climate and resources over a relatively small area. So what happens, instead, if we put mountain landscapes at the center of our analyses of prehistoric seasonal rounds and ecological adaptation? This Ph.D. argues that, in order to understand any landscape that includes mountains, from the Alps to the Andes, one must include the ecology and archaeology of the highest elevations. Specifically, I base my findings on new fieldwork and lithic collections from the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) of the Rocky Mountains, which was a vital crossroads of prehistoric cultures for more than 11,000 years. I include five interlocking analyses. First, I consider the impacts of anthropogenic climate change on high elevation cultural resources, focusing on the diminishing resiliency of ancient high elevation ice patches and the loss of the organic artifacts and paleobiological materials they contain. Second, I create a dichotomous key for chronologically typing projectile points, suggesting a methodological improvement for typological dating in the GYE and for surface archaeology more broadly. Third, I use obsidian source data to consider whether mountain people were a single, unified group or were represented by a variety of peoples with different zones of land tenure. Fourth, I consider high elevation occupation in both mountain ranges as part of the seasonal round, using indices of diversity in tool types and raw material to study how the duration of those occupations changed through time. And, finally, I test the common contention that ancient people primarily used mountains as refugia from extreme climatic pressure at lower elevations. Ultimately, I find that, in both mountain ranges, increased high elevation activity is most highly correlated with increased population, not with hot, dry climatic conditions. In other words, the mountains were more than simply refugia for plains or basin people to occupy when pressured by climatic hardship. In addition, between the Absarokas and the Beartooths the evidence suggests two different patterns of occupation, not a monolithic pan-mountain adaptation. These results demonstrate the potential contributions of surface archaeology to our understanding of prehistory, and have important implications for the way we think about mountain landscapes as peopled spaces in relation to adjacent lower-elevation areas.
Supervisor: Nigst, Philip Sponsor: Gates Cambridge Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: archaeology ; high elevation ; lithics ; hunter-gatherers ; foragers ; landscape archaeology ; human behavioral ecology ; ice patch archaeology ; mountain archaeology ; climate change ; projectile points ; typology ; obsidian sourcing ; land tenure ; occupational duration ; lithic raw material studies ; climatic refugia ; paleodemography ; paleoclimate ; Absaroka Mountains ; Beartooth Mountains ; Montana ; Wyoming ; Yellowstone National Park ; Numic Expansion ; Shoshone ; Crow ; diversity index ; population ; dichotomous key ; high altitude ; glacial archaeology