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Late Pleistocene Archaeology and Ecology in the Far Northeast

Late Pleistocene Archaeology and Ecology in the Far Northeast

by Claude Chapdelaine

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The Far Northeast, a peninsula incorporating the six New England states, New York east of the Hudson, Quebec south of the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Maritime Provinces, provided the setting for a distinct chapter in the peopling of North America. Late Pleistocene Archaeology and Ecology in the Far Northeast focuses on the Clovis


The Far Northeast, a peninsula incorporating the six New England states, New York east of the Hudson, Quebec south of the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Maritime Provinces, provided the setting for a distinct chapter in the peopling of North America. Late Pleistocene Archaeology and Ecology in the Far Northeast focuses on the Clovis pioneers and their eastward migration into this region, inhospitable before 13,500 years ago, especially in its northern latitudes.

Bringing together the last decade or so of research on the Paleoindian presence in the area, Claude Chapdelaine and the contributors to this volume discuss, among other topics, the style variations in the fluted points left behind by these migrating peoples, a broader disparity than previously thought. This book offers not only an opportunity to review new data and interpretations in most areas of the Far Northeast, including a first glimpse at the Cliche-Rancourt Site, the only known fluted point site in Quebec, but also permits these new findings to shape revised interpretations of old sites. The accumulation of research findings in the Far Northeast has been steady, and this timely book presents some of the most interesting results, offering fresh perspectives on the prehistory of this important region.

Editorial Reviews

Dean R. Snow

"The region Chapdelaine calls the Far Northeast was still cloaked with glacial ice when early bands of humans were already well established elsewhere on the North American continent. How they subsequently expanded northward and adapted to this bleak landscape once the ice melted is the subject of this fascinating volume. Leading scholars in the region have made the most of the latest finds to understand human adaptation in this corner of a long lost world. It is archaeological science at its best."--Dean R. Snow, professor, Pennsylvania State University

Kurt Carr

"I highly recommend this collection . . . this book provided new updates and interpretations and will make a timely and important contribution to the Paleoindian studies of this region and North America in general."--Kurt Carr, senior curator of archaeology, State Museum of Pennsylvania and former chief of the Division of Archaeology and Preservation for Pennsylvania

Jean-Luc Pilon

"Regardless of when the first footprints were made on the soil of the Americas or even where one believes the very first humans to occupy this continent came from, the first inhabitants of the Far Northeast of North America followed closely the disappearing Laurentide glacier. These Palaeoindians, unlike their relatives to the south and west, were adapting to a nascent landscape emerging from the endless slumber of the Pleistocene and undergoing incredible changes within a relatively short span of time. They likely gazed at the melting ice mass and some even lived near the shores of the vast Champlain Sea. This book provides a much needed update of that incredible story of human adaptation on the very edge of the inhabitable world. It benefits from and presents decades of new research on an ever-expanding inventory of known sites with regional overviews, site specific discussions and critical new palaeo-environmental and economic reconstructions. The Far Northeast should no longer be considered peripheral to the discussion of Palaeoindian culture history. Rather, it stands as a growing testament to humanity's relentless quest for new horizons and its ability to confront some of the harshest environmental challenges of the end of the last Ice Age."--Dr. Jean-Luc Pilon, Curator of Ontario Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization

American Archaeology - David Johnson

“…fascinating information is presented in this nicely illustrated volume…”—American Archaeology
Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology - Brad H. Koldehoff

"This nicely illustrated volume will be of great interest to all Paleoindian researchers...the studies published in this volume help to expose important differences and similarities between the Paleoindian records of the upper Midwest/Great Lakes and Far Northeast...This volume is an important contribution to the archaeology of North America, and it should be in every Paleoindian researcher's library."--Brad H. Koldehoff, Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology
Recherches Am�rindiennes au Qu�bec

“Pris dans son ensemble, l´ouvrage présente une grande pertinence. Son contenu s´articule de maniére cohérente et l´ecriture en est élegante. Il s´adresse autant à l´expert qu´au neophyte et présente une somme impressionnante d´informations . . . De plus, il constitute un bel exemple de cooperation entre chercheurs de différents horizons nationaux.  De fait, nous sommes d´avis que cet ouvrage marque un jalon dans l´avancement des recherches sur le sujet.”—Recherches Amérindiennes au Québec
The Kansas Anthropologist

"With the collaborative efforts of many authors, the volume presents the latest finds and current thinking within a good synthesis of the region's ecology and the Paleoamericans who lived there."--The Kansas Anthropologist
Quarterly Review of Biology - Donald R. Prothero

“It is well edited and nicely designed, with many excellent photos. Anyone interested in how humans first populated New England needs to own this important work.” —Donald R. Prothero, Vertebrate Paleontology, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, The Quarterly Review of Biology
Recherches Amérindiennes au Québec

“Pris dans son ensemble, l´ouvrage présente une grande pertinence. Son contenu s´articule de maniére cohérente et l´ecriture en est élegante. Il s´adresse autant à l´expert qu´au neophyte et présente une somme impressionnante d´informations . . . De plus, il constitute un bel exemple de cooperation entre chercheurs de différents horizons nationaux.  De fait, nous sommes d´avis que cet ouvrage marque un jalon dans l´avancement des recherches sur le sujet.”—Recherches Amérindiennes au Québec

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Texas A&M University Press
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Peopling of the Americas Publications
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11.20(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.90(d)

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Late Pleistocene Archaeology & Ecology in the Far Northeast

By Claude Chapdelaine

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2012 Texas A&M University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60344-805-5



Toward the Consolidation of a Cultural and Environmental Framework

Claude Chapdelaine and Richard A. Boisvert

The concept for Late Pleistocene Archaeology and Ecology in the Far Northeast derives from a long term collaboration between the two of us and the desire to share the results of the past decade or so of research by the many active scholars addressing the Paleoindian era in this region. The Far Northeast is not a new concept (Sanger and Renouf 2006); it refers to a large glaciated territory that holds a particular geographic and ecological position, affording it a distinct chapter in the peopling of North America. The Far Northeast is a peninsula incorporating the six New England states, New York east of the Hudson, Quebec south of the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence, plus the Maritime Provinces. This region was inhospitable before 13,500 years ago, especially in its northern latitudes. The fundamental issue for this volume focuses on the derivation of the Clovis pioneers from their eastward migration into the Far Northeast, who were distinguished by the more numerous fluted point style form variations than previously thought (Bradley et al. 2008; Morrow and Morrow 1999, 2002).

The archaeological record of the Far Northeast indicates that the area was probably settled slightly after 13,000 years ago. Several sites might apply to be among the oldest sites, but decisive data based on secure radiocarbon dates are still lacking (Bonnichsen and Will 1999; Gramly and Funk 1990). The contenders, on a logical basis, should be found in the western or southwestern portion of the Far Northeast. Sites such as Bull Brook in Massachusetts, Whipple in New Hampshire, or several sites in southeastern New York were certainly among the early settlements. Although all these sites are not well dated independently with firm radiocarbon assays, the fluted point styles from these sites are close to the older Clovis prototype that was the trademark between 13,500 and 12,800 years ago farther west and south.

No clear association between the extinct fauna and human occupation has been recorded in the Far Northeast, for few bones have been recovered so far. Although the proposition may seem tedious, caribou does seem to be the major prey, leading the majority of scholars to favor the caribou/tundra model of settlement subsistence during the early days and in northern latitudes. Within this perspective, the Vail site in Maine illustrates the Paleoindian capacity to explore and exploit a mountainous area around 12,500 years ago (Gramly 1982), and Debert in Nova Scotia (MacDonald 1968), dated to the same time range, could be the illustration of swift eastward mobility by Paleoindian hunters in relation to extensive caribou migration along a northeastern corridor. The incentive of this book is to present new data and updates of some earlier interpretations. Among these, it is worth mentioning the synthesis provided for the early 1990s (Gramly and Funk 1990), revisited by others eight years later (Spiess et al. 1998; see also Spiess and Newby 2002). A lengthy foreword by the late James Petersen (2004) on the West Athens Hill Site, the Paleoindian period, and the contributions of Robert Funk is also of great relevance to grasp the accumulated knowledge on this early period of time. Still, there has not been a single book or article that makes a complete summary of the Paleoindian era for most of the Far Northeast. With this volume we attempt to address this need, admitting that our coverage is by no means complete. Of the Canadian provinces, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are not represented in this volume, since no discoveries have been made in the past decade although early human presence has been recorded previously (Keenlyside 1991).

This book offers a new opportunity to review new data and interpretations in most areas of the Far Northeast, including a first glimpse at the only known fluted point site in Quebec, the Cliche-Rancourt site. Given the annual investigation of sites throughout the Far Northeast, the accumulation of research findings has been steady, making it timely to present some of the most interesting results, changing our perception of this large area.

The process of assembling this volume began when scholars were invited to participate in a symposium at the annual meeting of the Quebec Archaeological Association in Sherbrooke, May 1–3, 2009. All nine participants involved in Paleoindian archaeology or ecology agreed to transform their presentations into chapters for the present book. After the Sherbrooke meeting, invitations were extended to additional colleagues who could fill key areas of the Far Northeast. The famous Debert site is now part of a cluster of sites, and a team led by Leah Rosenmeier agreed to contribute to this venture. Likewise, John Crock accepted our invitation to present an update on the Early Paleoindian occupation for the state of Vermont. A total of ten chapters along with this introduction are thus presented here, each presenting new data to the scientific community.

Each chapter is unique, ranging from site description (Chapdelaine) to site clusters (Rosenmeier et al., Spiess et al., Pintal), pedology (Courchesne et al.), subregional synthesis (Boisvert, Crock and F. Robinson, Lothrop and Bradley), and specific problems such as the relationship with the Champlain Sea (F. Robinson) and the existence of a caribou drive near the Bull Brook Site (B. Robinson). With reports incorporating Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, eastern New York, Massachusetts, southeastern Quebec, and Nova Scotia, we feel that our coverage of the Far Northeast is adequate and hope that our efforts provide food for thought and stimulate a new interest in areas where archaeological research is lacking.

A collection of chapters covering such a vast territory could only be eclectic, which was the case for a comparable book on the Southeast (Anderson and Sassaman 1996), and we feel it is logical to present the regional syntheses first (part I), followed by specialized studies (part II).

Chapter 2, by Jonathan Lothrop and James Bradley on the Hudson Valley, covers the presumed territory from which specific groups may have entered the Far Northeast from the west, not excluding a southern entrance, and it might contain the most ancient sites of our study area. This chapter presents recent data and interpretations on Early and Middle Paleoindian lifeways during the late Pleistocene in the Mohawk/Hudson drainage basin. It provides current perspectives on late Pleistocene landscapes of eastern New York, scenarios for human colonization, and aspects of settlement, subsistence adaptations, and technology. It is thus a starting chapter for studying the peopling of the Far Northeast.

The state of Vermont was first in the Far Northeast to record a Paleoindian site, with the Reagan site (Ritchie 1953), but a long silence followed that is now broken by John Crock and Francis Robinson reporting an impressive set of new sites. In Chapter 3 they challenge stereotypes by referring to Paleoindians located mostly along the Champlain Lake area as "Maritime Mountaineers" inhabiting the west coast of New England. A strong link can be made between their vision and the one developed by Pintal's Chapter 11 on the Quebec Strait, emphasizing both an intimate relation between a site's location and the Champlain Sea episode with its presumed marine biodiversity. This welcome chapter describes the cultural affiliation, settlement type, content, and location of twenty-five recorded Paleoindian sites and well-documented finds in Vermont for the purposes of understanding human colonization and early settlement in the region.

The state of New Hampshire has also known a rapid increase in Paleoindian sites over the past fifteen years, and the synthesis provided by Richard Boisvert in chapter 4 is the first ever attempted while fieldwork and lab analysis are ongoing. It is thus not surprising that research conducted since 1996 has substantially enlarged the database for the state and contributed significantly to the region. This expansion is summarized and evaluated in this chapter. Patterns of site location within the state, evidence for behavior beyond the requirements of hunting, and indications of complex interactions with other areas lead Boisvert to a more nuanced model of settlement. The Potter site, which is mentioned in the chapter, is definitely a key site, and much attention will be devoted to it in the coming years.

The state of Maine has been making tremendous progress since the discovery and publication of the Vail site in the early 1980s (Gramly 1982). In Chapter 5, Arthur Spiess and his colleagues Ellen Cowie and Robert Bartone bring us to another level with an analysis of clusters. The authors mention the discovery of almost twenty Paleoindian sites in Maine in the past twenty years. Two clusters are discussed in this chapter: Vail, and those associated with the Lewiston-Auburn airport. Styles of fluted points and range of raw materials used among various sites in a site cluster are examined to discuss the length of occupation and the range and variation in Paleoindian movement to and from each place. The seasonal aspect of Paleoindian settlement pattern is supported by this new recognition of successive occupations at specific areas. With this perspective in mind, several sites considered isolated in an area might be the start of new research to verify the existence of a cluster.

A new contribution on a cluster of sites in the general area of the Debert site by a team of scholars led by Leah Morine Rosenmeier starts part II and the specialized studies. With the support of Scott Buchanan, Ralph Stea, and Gordon Brewster, in chapter 6 Rosenmeier presents new evidence from several sites on soil, stratigraphy, and cultural content and discusses the implications on the dating and environmental conditions prevailing at the end of the Pleistocene. These new sites define a cluster that gives the region a new window into the past.

The Cliche-Rancourt site reported in chapter 7 by Claude Chapdelaine is the single known site for the entire province of Quebec that could be assigned to the Early Paleoindian period on the basis of fluted points and other distinctive artifacts. The site has received much attention since 2003, after the first two fluted points were discovered, and 205 m2 have been dug so far. Four loci were delimited and extensive research has been carried out on Areas 1, 2, and 3. The 2009 field season confirmed that Area 4 was not occupied by fluted point makers, but the recognition of the new Area 5 in the southwestern portion of the site has given new breath for investigation. The chapter is limited to a detailed presentation of the first three areas. The tool assemblage is described, followed by a discussion on internal organization and domestic activities. External relations with adjacent regions are explored within a broader perspective with the implications of the Cliche-Rancourt site for our understanding of seasonal movements, adaptation, lithic acquisition, and cultural relations.

The unusual presence of artifacts at depths ranging from 20 to 80 cm within the otherwise sterile orange sand layer below the spodic gray sand at Cliche-Rancourt led to the collaboration of François Courchesne, pedologist, and his team to tackle this problem. The results of this study, given in chapter 8, question the mechanisms involved in this burying process. A polygenetic model of soil evolution was used as the theoretical framework to facilitate the identification work of pedogenetic processes, in particular, pedoturbation. This approach has helped to retrace the soil evolution since ice retreat and suggested the central importance of cryoturbation and bioturbation as major mechanisms in the burying of artifacts at the Cliche-Rancourt archaeological site.

Chapter 9, on Bull Brook, by Brian Robinson is part of a quest to understand a settlement pattern represented by a single organized event with thirty-six activity loci, along with the economic strategy to allow this important social aggregation. The hypothesis developed here stresses the importance of a lowstand of the changing sea level east of Bull Brook, favoring the emergence of Jeffreys Ledge, a drowned maritime island that may have provided abundance, predictability, and landscape characteristics suitable for communal caribou drives. The location of Bull Brook could have been related to this late ephemeral Pleistocene landscape.

Chapter 10, by Francis Robinson IV, on Vermont is a much needed update on the exact relationship between the Champlain Sea episode and the known Paleoindian sites. The location of the Reagen site, a multicomponent Paleoindian site, near the expected sea shoreline or altitude tends to support the chronological framework based on fluted point forms developed recently (Bradley et al. 2008). Models of the inception and duration of the Champlain Sea have been revised significantly over the past decade, and the Paleoindian presence in Vermont is now considered coeval. The biodiversity of the late Pleistocene body of water brings a new perspective to discussions of Paleoindian settlement patterns and subsistence dominated by the caribou model.

In chapter 11, Jean-Yves Pintal presents a series of challenging sites found in the Quebec City area that are providing us with a unique view of the end of fluted point manufacture and its transition into something else. The inception and evolution of the Champlain Sea episode in the Strait of Quebec are the necessary general background for understanding human occupations in the area. The basic chronology suffers from a lack of radiocarbon dates for these oldest sites, but an Early Archaic site dated to 9000 14C yr BP with a quartz assemblage is providing a solid upper limit for the Paleoindian period. The tool assemblage of these oldest sites in the Quebec City area shows resemblance to the Cormier/Nicholas point style, and it should be older than the Early Archaic site. The spatial distribution of these sites between 11,300 and 8800 years ago indicates a rather smooth change in the exploitation of the territory, starting with a tendency to occupy the same sites and later moving to a wider range of environments.

The chapters of this volume have much in common, but one source is especially pivotal. This is "What's the Point? Modal Forms and Attributes of Paleoindian Bifaces in the New England–Maritimes Region," by James Bradley, Arthur Spiess, Richard Boisvert, and Jeff Boudreau, published in the Archaeology of Eastern North America in 2008. Prior to its publication, researchers in the Northeast had to rely on external references to define and discuss the essential diagnostic artifacts of the region. The purpose of the study was "to propose a set of definitions for the Paleoindian bifaces currently known within the New England-Maritimes Region ... to provide a clearly defined set of working terms to facilitate comparisons and test hypotheses." (Bradley et al. 2008:119). These authors then set out to define the modalities of the Paleoindian bifaces metrically, stylistically, and geographically with a (partial) goal of clarifying the chronological and cultural parameters, thus offering a point of departure for future research. In a brief period of time this work has become a standard reference in Paleoindian studies. In a sense, this publication was a watershed event and represented a coming of age for the study of the Paleoindian era for the region. Its authors intended it to be used and tested as a tool, and one can judge its utility by its application in the chapters of this volume.

Another aspect touched on regularly in this volume is the importance of channel flakes (see Boisvert 2008). This particular type of artifact is mostly associated with the final stage of fluted point production. Channel flakes obtained from the final fluting process, nearly always as fragments, exhibit short truncated flake scars on their exterior that meet to form a central ridge parallel to the direction of force that removed the flake. These flakes are the product of the manufacture of the longitudinal grooves that are the diagnostic feature of Paleoindian fluted points.


Excerpted from Late Pleistocene Archaeology & Ecology in the Far Northeast by Claude Chapdelaine. Copyright © 2012 Texas A&M University Press. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

CLAUDE CHAPDELAINE, a professor of archaeology at the Université de Montréal, specializes in the prehistory of North America.

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