The Form, Function, and Organization of Anthropogenic Deposits At Dust Cave, Alabama

Lara Kristine Homsey

PhD Thesis 2004

This study investigates the form, function, and organization of features at the Lake Paleoindian through Middle Archaic site of Dust Cave, Alabama, using a multidisciplinary approach combing macromorphological, micromorphological, and chemical analyses. Previous studies have relied on observations made at the macroscope level using morphological and/or content attributes, severly masking the diversity of activities they represent. A more robust method conceptualizes features as sedimentary deposits and reconstruct their depository history as a means identifying feature function. At Dust Cave an integrated method of combing 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 Paleoindian and 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 Archiac, 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 cave and rockshelter sites, at which numerous nut processing pits, pitting stones, and enormous quantities of nut charcoal indicate a general shift in site use as a plant extraction camp-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 the Middle Archaic. The changing use of caves and rockshelters during the Middle Archaic is therefore not one of longer occupation as has been argued, but rather one of intensified use as special purpose sites dedicated to the collection and processing of mast resources.