Modeling Uplands: Landscape and Prehistoric Native American Settlement Archaeology in the Virginia Blue Ridge Foothills
Modeling Uplands: Landscape and Prehistoric Native American Settlement Archaeology in the Virginia Blue Ridge FoothillsCarole Lynn Nash, Ph.D.Director: Anita G. Cook, Ph.D.This dissertation presents a landscape-based study of Native American archaeological site distribution in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains and foothills of the Upper Rappahannock River basin. The upland forests of the Appalachians are among the most diverse natural communities in the temperate world, and their ecological heterogeneity provides the setting for a study of change and flexibility as an essential feature of hunter-gatherer cultural existence. Archaeologists committed to an ecologically-based study of upland hunter-gatherer settlement have turned to the spatial and temporal scaling of the landscape approach to decipher the complex relations among humans and their environments and to consider cultural persistence and change in complex ecological settings.The major methodological contribution is the development of an approach that combines field survey, artifact analysis, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to produce a working model of cultural continuity and change at multiple spatial and temporal scales. The field work was undertaken by the author and a group of trained volunteers from the Madison Archaeology Project, a rural, citizen-science effort designed to document archaeological resources in the rural Rappahannock Piedmont. A relational database and Geographic Information System facilitates the analysis of provenienced artifact collections from 233 sites in three macro-physiographic provinces and six watersheds. The assemblage of 50,623 artifacts is analyzed for twenty-one variables associated with material culture, site characteristics, and ecological context. The resulting model allows the analysis of subtle landscape variables and site distribution across different spatial scales, releasing archaeologists from decontextualized explanations of hunter-gatherer settlement.In addition to providing geographical coverage of a previously unstudied region, this study contributes to archaeological practice and archaeological site conservation. Throughout the United States, the daily exercise of archaeology relies on accurate models that can locate sites potentially threatened by landscape-altering projects. Archaeologists with access to GIS technology and relational databases have the potential for full consideration of landscape use by mobile hunter-gatherer groups who incorporated the uplands into settlement cycles. Similarly, local governments with access to this technology can develop more robust management plans for site conservation.
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