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In the Eastern Fluted Point Tradition
Hardcover, medium format, double-columned, 410 pp.
Order from: The University of Utah Press, 295 South 1500 East, Suite 5400, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112-0860; www.UofUpress.com.
As stated both within a University of Utah's advertisement and the introduction itself, one of the purposes of this book is to provide an overview of fluted point Palaeo-American sites archaeological sites within eastern North America.
Such an overview is not entirely lacking — witness Lepper and Funk's chapter within Volume 3 of the landmark Handbook of North American Indians, which appeared as recently as 2006. This important study is cited by only one of the authors and discussants of this book (David Anderson) but nowhere in the Index.
Other significant overviews such as Gary Haynes' The Early Settlement of North America (2002) and David Meltzer's First Peoples in a New World (2009), however, are mentioned by individual authors but are given short-shrift within the Index. In fact, the Index is incomplete and perfunctory. It hardly does justice to the scholarship of the papers and is the Achilles' heel of the entire volume. Much more care should have been given to its preparation. Of course, useful indexes are time-consuming and expensive to produce; yet, they are the most efficient means of locating information — apart from notes made during a first reading.
The book is broken down into 16 essays of varying length and thoroughness, apportioned among four Parts. Drafts of nearly all essays were presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The three essays of the final part (Part IV) are highly amplified discussions about the weight and importance of the first three parts; however, in them their authors also offer unique information of great value. My favorite is Stuart J. Fiedel's highly detailed and carefully crafted essay, "Is That All There Is?," which calls our attention to the scanty and ambiguous evidence of a pre-Clovis presence in North America. Fiedel's perspective alone is worth the purchase price of the volume.
While careful reviewers will be able to detect shortcomings among the 16 individual essays (I am presenting a few examples below), such concerns are trumped merely by the fact that these essays appeared at all! I had given up hope of receiving any more data about Virginia's Flint Run Complex. During the 1980s much was said about the importance of this archaeological complex; however, analysts were seldom given any data for an independent judgement. Likewise, another much-mentioned Palaeo-American site — Plenge in New Jersey - is revisited here. It is proof of the archaeologist's maxim that "An important site never stands to be forgotten!"
Should this volume ever be re-issued, certain omissions need rectifying, and some up-dating will be required. While no editor should be expected to master all existing data about the initial settlement of eastern North America, I detected an obvious bias against the rich vein of information appearing routinely within amateur archaeological publications. Call this failure by the authors (all of whom are professionals) to draw upon relevant works by amateur scientists as a simple case of " hubris of establishment intellectuals," still no overview can afford to neglect relevant data — wherever it may be found.
Also, it would have been desirable to represent the long history of Canadian archaeological scholarship by including at least one essay about Canadian Palaeo-American sites by a Canadian author. It saddens me to observe that no Canadian archaeological site was posted upon the map on page 2 (entitled — "Figure 0.1. Map of selected sites and quarries discussed within this volume."). Authors Miller and Gingerich, however, did not fail to present the series of C-14 determinations from the Debert site in Nova Scotia in Chapter 1! We owe a great debt to Canadian scholars for elucidating the Palaeo-American archaeological sequence of eastern North America. Let us hope they will forgive us for slighting them.
Also in Chapter 1, I noted usage of an out-dated concept that Dalton is pre-eminently a Palaeo-American manifestation. This idea persists despite excellent and well-reported radiocarbon dates and dietary remains from the Olive Branch site in Illinois, which indicate placement within the Archaic era. The Olive Branch C-14 dates actually have been omitted from Miller's and Gingerich's Appendix — an oversight, if unintentional, calls into question their command of the archaeological literature. The Olive Branch radiocarbon dates are based upon wood charcoal from stratified contexts and have been cited by scholars in various publications, intended for both amateurs and professionals.
For me, one of the thrusts of Miller's and Gingerich's Appendix of radiocarbon dates is that there is an obvious need for new determinations. Archaeological fieldwork these days is not providing enough materials for absolute dating — materials that were available so freely only a generation or two ago. In short, we need more large-scale excavations of important encampments where adequate samples of datable materials stand to be discovered. This criticism is not levied against In the Eastern Fluted Point Tradition; rather it is an indictment of North American archaeology itself.
Lucinda McWeeney's chapter about "Paleoindian environment" — Chapter 2 — contains both interesting insights and some glaring omissions. Apparently she is unaware of the excellent, absolutely dated pollen sequence for the Vail fluted point Palaeo-American site, which was available as a dissertation until its recent appearance (2009) as a chapter in a monograph? The impact of her essay is lessened because of this oversight. I was shocked to learn from her that some of the rare calcined faunal remains from the Bull Brook site, Ipswich, Massachusetts, were sacrificed for radiocarbon dating. All in all. I agree with her position that there is too much variation in environmental and subsistence data to generalize about Palaeo-Americans of the Northeast (see page 41).
One of the weakest essays of the volume is Jesse Tune's reassessment (Chapter 7) of the Wells Creek site, north-central Tennessee — a focus of Don Dragoo's research during the 1960s. It is not surprising to learn, perhaps, that Tune's paper was solicited after the symposium had occurred. He fails to cite two references about work performed at Wells Creek nearly a decade before his own. Why Tune should choose to ignore such documents, which had been provided to him well before his essay went to press, is a matter that only he can address.
One could continue this discussion of chapter contents for many, many pages; however, perceptions of "adequacy" are likely to vary from reader to reader. What emerges is that we have been presented a great amount of food for thought, and we must be grateful to all the authors, editor Gingerich, and the University of Utah press for taking the trouble to do so. This book belongs on the shelf of every Palaeo-American scholar and in every library that prides itself for its holdings of materials relating to the earliest settlement of North America.
Reviewed by R. M. Gramly, PhD, ASAA Organizer (7/2013).