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The Hunter-Gatherer Use of Caves and Rockshelters in the American Midsouth

A geoarchaeological and spatial analysis of archaeological features at Dust Cave

Lara K. Homsey
Publication Year:
114pp. Illustrated with 7 tables and 38 figures in colour and black and white, data Appendices.
ISBN 10:
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This study investigates the form, function, and organization of features at the Late Paleoindian through Middle Archaic site of Dust Cave, Alabama (US), using a multidisciplinary approach combining macromorphological, micromorphological, and chemical analyses. Previous studies have relied on observations made at the macroscopic level using morphological and/or content attributes, severely masking the diversity of activities they represent. A more robust method conceptualizes features as sedimentary deposits and reconstructs their depositional history as a means of identifying feature function. At Dust Cave, an integrated method combining micromorphology and geochemistry with more traditional studies of morphology and content highlights the importance of several activities not previously recognized, including broiling, smoking, nut processing, storage, and refuse disposal. Use of Dust Cave as a place in the hunter-gatherer landscape of the Middle Tennessee Valley did not remain constant through time, but rather changed over the millennia. During the Late Paleoindian and early Early Archaic, Dust Cave functioned as a short term residential camp which was occupied fairly intensively during the late summer through fall. During the late Early Archaic, the site shifted to a residential base camp. During the Middle Archaic, the site shifted again to a logistical extraction camp where groups processed hickory nuts on such a large scale that the copious amounts of refuse generated give one the impression of a longer term base camp. The changes seen at Dust Cave mirror changes at other regional cave and rockshelter sites at which numerous nut processing pits, nutting stones, and enormous quantities of nut charcoal indicate a general shift in site use as plant extraction camps—sites where nuts were boiled and parched for transport to base camps located at lower elevations. The increased reliance on mast resources corresponds to warming and drying associated with the middle Holocene. These vegetation changes played a key role in the increasingly logistical mobility strategy of Middle Archaic hunter-gatherer groups.