Paper No. 91-2
Presentation Time: 8:25 AM
HUMAN ADAPTATION TO SEASONAL CLIMATE VARIATION IN PREHISTORIC COASTAL SOUTHEASTERN USA
Seasons are simultaneously a set of objective climatic phenomena and human cultural/economic constructs. Human adaptations to seasonality are essential to understanding the trajectory of civilization over time and are central even in describing modern global economies. However, not all climate proxies can resolve seasonal variation at the spatiotemporal scale necessary to understand the human impact of climate change. Furthermore, as seasons are defined differently according to cultural and economic factors, contemporary seasonal paleoclimate reconstructions may not be relevant in all human contexts. However, some climate proxies are increasingly able to resolve local seasonal change in key parameters. Additionally, advances in isotope sclerochronology, zooarchaeology, and paleobotany permit assessment of season of capture and occupation with sufficient detail to address how humans adapt and, perhaps, define seasons. Unfortunately, meaningful regional reconstructions of climate and human action require large data sets derived from many archaeological sites. Such large-scale applications are only now beginning to reach a stage in a few locations where broad statements about adaptation are possible. Once such region is the coastal southeastern USA. Here a comparatively large number of sites have been assessed for season of occupation and resource exploitation. This talk will summarize existing and new unpublished seasonality estimates for the region, consider the methodological shortcomings of the data, and argue for a new model of coastal subsistence adaptions to seasons. Specifically, coastal prehistoric populations in the southeastern US traditionally were considered to have employed seasonal round subsistence patterns in which all or part of a population would move across the landscape to procure necessary resources, even after the adoption of agriculture. However, recent season of capture data indicate year-round occupation of large sites to be common, which supports central-place foraging models. Climate and environmental change would affect people following these contrasting subsistence models in very different ways and may offer insight into key cultural transitions, such as the beginnings of agriculture.