Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 10:50 AM


MANDEL, Rolfe D., Kansas Geological Survey, University of Kansas, 1930 Constant Avenue, Lawrence, KS 66047-3724,

Historical accounts of geoarchaeology tend to be broad in geographic scope, but one area of North America, the Great Plains, warrants special attention because for the most part geoarchaeology in the western hemisphere emerged and developed there. Although this did not happen simultaneously across the Plains, several research themes brought geoscientists and archaeologists together in that region during certain periods in the 19th and 20th centuries. From the 1860s through the 1930s the controversy over the antiquity of humans in the New World dominated North America archaeology, and many sites on the Plains, including Frederick, 12 Mile Creek, Clovis, Lindenmeier, Lansing, and Scottsbluff, were at the center of the debate. Lacking a numerical-dating technique that could resolve the controversy, archaeologists turned to geoscientists to corroborate or refute evidence that suggested peopling of the Americas during the late Pleistocene. However, with the arrival of radiocarbon dating in the late 1940s, geoscientists were no longer tethered to “early man” sites. Moreover, radiocarbon dating opened the door for another research theme: reconstructing paleoenvironments contemporary with prehistoric human activity at any given time and place. Throughout the early and mid-1900s, earth scientists were often called upon to unravel the complex depositional histories of the many deeply stratified Paleoindian sites on the Plains. The list of geoscientist who worked at those sites includes some of the most prominent figures to shape the discipline of geoarchaeology, including Kirk Bryan, Ernst Antevs, Claud Albritton Jr., E.H. Sellards, and C. Vance Haynes Jr. Although collaboration between archaeologists and geoscientists waned between 1950 and 1965, the emergence of processual and environmental archaeology during the mid- to late 1960s caused resurgence in Plains geoarchaeology. Since 1970, cultural resource management (CRM), which emerged in response to federal mandates, has been the primary driving force behind Plains geoarchaeology. Geoarchaeology in the Plains has graduated from something done only by specialists at old and/or deeply buried sites to a cooperative effort among archaeologists and geoscientists in a wide variety of archaeological contexts.