Native American landscapes of St. Catherines Island, Georgia. (Anthropological papers of the American Museum of Natural History, no. 88)

Four deceptively simple questions have guided our long-term research into the aboriginal lifeways of St. Catherines Island: 1. How and why did the human landscape (settlement patterns and land use) change through time? 2. To what extent were subsistence and settlement patterns shaped by human population increase, intensification, and competition for resources? 3. What factors can account for the emergence of social inequality in Georgia's Sea Islands? 4. Can systematically collected archaeological evidence resolve the conflicting ethno-historic interpretations of the aboriginal Georgia coast (the so-called 'Guale problem')? Over a span of four decades, the American Museum of Natural History has addressed these four fundamental questions using a broad array of field and analytical techniques. We conducted a 20 percent probabilistic transect survey of St. Catherines Island, walking and probing for buried sites across a series of 31 east-west transects, each 100 m wide. During this initial survey we located 122 archaeological sites, which we tested with more than 400 one-meter by one-meter units. Because the transect sampling was heavily biased toward sites with marine shell, we also conducted a systematic shovel testing program. We also augmented these systematic surveys with a direct shoreline reconnaissance (mostly following the late Holocene surfaces), recording roughly 84 additional shoreline sites on St. Catherines Island. By plotting the distribution of these known-age sites across the Holocene beach ridges, we have developed a detailed sequence documenting the progradation and erosion of beach ridge complexes adjacent to tidal estuaries and oceanward shorelines on the island. To evaluate the results of the 1000+ test explorations and excavations on St. Catherines Island, we have processed 251 radiocarbon determinations, including two dozen dates on 'modern' mollusks (known-age specimens collected prior to atomic bomb contamination) to compute a 'reservoir' correction factor specific to the estuaries around St. Catherines Island (of [Delta]R = -134 [+ or -] 26). The results have been compiled into a dataset of 239 radiocarbon determinations for samples from St. Catherines Island. One hundred and ten of these dates (from 31 distinct mortuary and midden sites) could be directly associated with datable ceramic assemblages, which were classified according to Chester DePratter's (1979, 1991) Northern Georgia Coast chronology .By comparing the results of typological classification with the radiocarbon evidence currently available from St. Catherines Island, we propose a slightly modified ceramic chronology for St. Catherines Island. We analyzed the seasonal growth increments in modern hard clams (Mercenaria mercenaria) for a 9-year interval (beginning in 1975). Mercenaria suitable for seasonal analysis were recovered from nearly 85 percent (110 of 130) of the sites identified and sampled in the island wide survey. We analyzed about 2000 individual hard clam shells recovered from these shell middens and, of these, 1771 individual specimens (or fragments) provided usable growth increment estimates, enabling us to address seasonal patterns during the 5000 years of human history. This study is reinforced by an oxygen isotope study of modern and ancient clams from St. Catherines Island. This transect survey produced an extensive and diverse set of vertebrate faunal remains collected systematically from archaeological sites tested across the entire island. Elizabeth Reitz and her colleagues analyzed this vertebrate faunal assemblage, which contains at least 586 individuals represented by 14,970 vertebrate specimens weighing 21,615 g. These materials provide a solid basis for refining hypotheses not only for St. Catherines Island, but for most coastal locations. With the exception of the first and last occupations (the St. Simons and Altamaha periods), the samples suggest a stable pattern of resource use through time, with little variation through time or across space (although the small sample sizes for each time period and circumscribed geographical setting might constrain this interpretation). She also notes the presence of numerous seasonal indicators in the vertebrate zoo archaeological samples recovered from archaeological sites on St. Catherines Island--including unshed deer antlers, juvenile deer dentition, and shark and sea catfish remains. But we also recognized the importance of examining diverse sources of seasonal information in our attempt to flesh out overall patterns of site utilization. We also include analysis of the vertebrate zooarchaeological assemblages from Meeting House Field and Fallen Tree, two additional sites intensively investigated by the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Georgia. The intensive program of mortuary archaeology has recovered the remains of more than 725 individuals from 18 archaeological sites on St. Catherines Island. More than 90 percent of these remains were analyzed by Clark Spencer Larsen and his colleagues, using a variety of microscopic, biomechanical, and stable isotopic techniques. In this monograph, we address the archaeology of St. Catherines Island using the broad- based theoretical approach known as optimal foraging theory, which is grounded in the more general paradigm of human behavioral ecology (that studies human behavior by applying the principles of natural selection within an ecological context). The broad rubric of 'optimal foraging theory' encompasses a broad range of specific models, each of which employs a unique set of simplifying assumptions and constraints, and each can be used to derive testable hypotheses about foraging behavior under certain environmental circumstances. Each model is a formal, mathematical construct and they share the key assumption that during 'economic' pursuits, the forager will operate to maximize the overall rate of energetic return. Specifically, we have employed three basic models to address the archaeology of St. Catherines Island. The diet-breadth (or prey choice) model addresses the issue of which foods should an efficient forager harvest from all those available on St. Catherines Island. Diet-breadth models predict that foragers will optimize the time spent capturing prey, and employ the simplifying assumptions that all resources are randomly distributed (without patches) and that 'capture/handling' and 'search' times represent the sum total of all time spent foraging. We also apply the patch choice model, which, combined with the central limit theorem, predicts that foraging effort will correlate directly with efficiency rank order, meaning that foragers should spend more time working the higher-ranked patches and less time in patches with lower energetic potential. Finally, we likewise employ the central place foraging model to investigate the time/energy spent processing resources at temporary camps before transport to a residential base. We find central place foraging theory to be useful for addressing the role and location of the residential base as a locus for provisioning offspring and mates or potential mates. This monograph also reports the results of optimal foraging experiments conducted over a 2-year period on St. Catherines Island, specifically addressing procurement and return rates for key marine and terrestrial resources that would have been available to aboriginal foragers on St. Catherines Island.
Issued March 3, 2008. 3 v. (xiii, 1136 p.) : ill., maps ; 26 cm. Contents: pt. 1. The theoretical framework -- pt. 2. The data -- pt. 3. Synthesis and implications.
Guale Indians., Georgia., Saint Catherines Island., Land settlement patterns.