Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



Wandsnider, LuAnn

2008 Time-Averaged Deposits and Multi-temporal Processes in the Wyoming Basin, Intermontane North America: A Preliminary Consideration of Land Tenure in Terms of Occupation Frequency and Integration. In Time in Archaeology: Time Perspectivism Revisited, edited by S. Holdaway and L. Wandsnider, pp. 61-93. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.


Copyright 2008 University of Utah Press.


Archaeological time perspectivism encompasses the notion that archaeological deposits are formed through the operation of processes occurring at a variety of tempos over the short, medium, and long term (Bailey 1981, 1983, 1987, 2007, this volume). The processes involved may be behavioral, social, formational, organizational, or evolutionary, to name a few. Through their operation, material consequences may be immediate, lagged, or follow after some threshold is breached. Moreover, interaction may occur among and between different processes, depending on whether they operate at approximately the same scale (Bailey 1983; Fletcher 1995).

A corollary of the first statement is that different archaeological deposits, by virtue of their different temporal structures (Kirch 2005:414; Murray 2004), have potentially captured processes operating at different tempos. This corollary recognizes that modern (and ancient) surfaces are temporal mosaics (Bettis and Mandel 2002), with some local surfaces rather ancient and others more recent. It also recognizes that different landforms in close or far proximity to sediment sources will be differentially active, with consequences for the deposition and sealing of archaeological remains. For exampIe, a surface that has been stable over a millennium has the potential to receive the fallout from a variety of processes operating at different tempos. On the other hand, on a very dynamic land surface, fast-tempo cultural processes, such as frequently occurring occupation events, may be well represented, whereas slower processes, for example, rarely (once-in-a-lifetime) occurring ritual events, may be more incompletely sampled.

Here, I explore the temporal structure and interpretive potential of deposits from throughout the Wyoming Basin (intermontane North America) that have been well documented through compliance archaeology. I assume that all of these deposits likely represent cumulative and spatial palimpsests (sensu Bailey 200]:204-207) manifesting different degrees of integration (Holdaway and Wandsnider 2006; see below). My goal is exploratory and follows from Murray's (1997; see also Olivier 2001; Bailey, this volume) observations that archaeology as a discipline still seeks the means to interpret social process over the medium to long term from the convoluted human/natural phenomenon that is the archaeological record. This exploration represents an exercise in pattern recognition as alluded to by Clarke (1973) and Binford (1977b) when they note that theory building must follow the development of an understanding of archaeological subject matter. But. of course. we also recognize that the units we choose to describe archaeological phenomenon prefigure the kinds of interpretations that can be entertained (Ramenofsky and Steffen 1998; Wylie 1989). To escape this methodological conundrum requires that simultaneous efforts be made along the paths of theory building. pattern recognition. and unit formation and that the hermeneutic spiral be completed. with an eternal dialogue among and between theory building. unit construction. data collection. and interpretation evaluation (Hodder 1999). A consideration of these deposits. with coarse-and very coarse-temporal grain (see below). opens the door to inferences about short-. medium-. and longer-term processes of wider anthropological interest. for example. the development of different land tenure systems.

Translating this larger goal into concrete objectives. I first elaborate on the properties of the temporal structure of archaeological deposits and then discuss the potential processes that may contribute toward the character of Wyoming Basin archaeological assemblages. Next. I introduce the Wyoming Basin study area and then move to an analysis of the temporal structure of Wyoming Basin components especially focusing on occupation frequency and integration. Discussion follows on aspects of land tenure.