Late Pleistocene human adaptations in eastern North America
Late Pleistocene human adaptations in eastern North America have long been treated as essentially homogeneous and like the highly specialized adaptive strategies practiced by contemporary Paleo-indian groups on the southern High Plains. Yet a brief review of the relevant archaeological and paleoecological data demonstrates that a pan-eastern specialized hunting adaptation is unlikely theoretically and any claims to such are unwarranted empirically.The origin of the view of Paleo-indians as specialized big-game hunters is rooted in the resolution of an important chronological debate in American archaeology that began in the mid-19th century. The persistence of this view in eastern North America, in the absence of empirical support, is rooted in perceptions of the way the archaeological record should appear, rather than the way the archaeological record does appear.Examination of the late Pleistocene environmental record for eastern North America shows that a specialized hunting adaptation was ecologically improbable in the complex forests of the southeast, and that the subsistence strategy there was a more generalized one. By contrast, specialized hunting was quite possible in the low diversity tundra of the high latitudes.This is supported by analysis of two classes of archaeological data, sites and isolated fluted points. Sites exhibit significant differences in tool technology, raw material use, subsistence and settlement patterning which conform with differences in their environmental setting. The fluted points exhibit stylistic differences across the region as well, certain types of points being restricted both spatially and temporally. Those stylistic classes are useful in developing an internal chronology for the fluted point period. Moreover, the wide distribution of isolated fluted points in the eastern forests suggests the existence of a non-site settlement organization which also corresponds with hypothesized patterns of adaptation.This alternative view of late Pleistocene human adaptations in eastern North America has significant implications for the analysis and interpretation of Paleo-indian in the eastern United States.
- Anthropology