University Studies of the University of Nebraska



John L. Champe

Date of this Version







The Great Plains has been an important laboratory for anthropological research since the latter part of the nineteenth century. Much of the early work was ethnological in character, a consequence, perhaps, of the late preservation of tribal life in the area. These early studies, however, cover a wide range and include subjects as diverse as tribal ethnographies, special studies in ethnobotany, and distributional analyses of Sun Dance traits. Although many of the earlier studies stressed historical sequences, a definite swing away from this position soon developed. By the middle of the nineteen-twenties, in fact, investigators became so preoccupied with distributional concepts that readily available sequential data were entirely overlooked. Recent studies, and particularly those in the Central Plains, indicate a return of the interest in problems of sequence and an increasing appreciation of the importance of time perspectives. This renewed emphasis on history is closely associated with the rise of scientific archeology, which has as its first purpose the achievement of time perspective by means of an objectively derived sequence of cultures. This correlation is probably no coincidence. The utility of valid archeological inference as a corrective to ethnological theory was underlined by Strong1 in his brief, but pungent essay, Anthropological Theory and Archeological Fact. Strong2 considers the inferential picture of the Great Plains before the advent of the horse and contrasts it with the more objective data revealed by archeology. He concludes that ... in the Great Plains ... the application of archeological techniques seems destined to overturn one of the most strongly held ethnographic concepts in the area. It is already apparent that, critically applied, the combined ethnological and archeological approach has possibilities that have as yet hardly been touched on. The purpose of this study is to achieve further time perspectives for the Central Great Plains by means of archeology. The material to be discussed will be presented under four headings. Excavations in Ash Hollow Cave (Fig. 1, site I) provide the basic data for this study and the first heading includes a detailed statement of the archeology of this cave. The Ash Hollow evidence is fundamental in character because the stratification within the floor deposits is thoroughly documented and the inferences of cultural succession for this site are adequately supported. In addition to satisfactory stratigraphy, independent evidence from dendrochronological studies of charcoal contained within the stratified deposits is available as a check on the inferences of cultural sequence. Although the evidence from Ash Hollow Cave provides a frame of reference for this study, important data have been reported heretofore from Signal Butte and other stratified sites in the Central Plains (Fig. 1, sites 11, 13, 15). The material from these sites, relevant to an analysis of cultural sequence in the Central Plains, will be summarized under the second heading. A review of the evidence for culture sequence in the White River terraces (Fig. I, site 18) is included under the third heading. At this time, only preliminary reports of the archeological findings have been published. I have supplemented the published material with personal observations made on two brief visits to the site. The fourth heading comprises the evidence for succession of cultures in certain eastern Nebraska terraces (Fig. I, sites 2, 7, 14, 17). The Walker Gilmore site, investigated and discussed by Sterns3 and by Strong,4 is typical of this group. New data can now be added to the record of the Walker Gilmore site for comparison with the reports of several other sites where similar problems appear. The greater part of this latter material has not been reported before. There are several other multi-component5 sites in the Central Plains from which some evidence of culture sequence has been reported. Although the data now available do not seem directly relevant to the present problem, these sites have been discussed briefly, for the sake of completeness, and included as Appendix III. In general, the evidence for culture. sequence summarized under the second, third and fourth headings is less fully documented than that from Ash Hollow Cave. By comparing this material, however, and referring it to the Ash Hollow sequence, it becomes possible to derive a sequence for the greater part of the Central Plains that is basically stratigraphic in character. This newly derived sequence and its implications have a number of interesting applications. First of all, a testing of previous hypotheses of culture sequence in the Central Plains is made possible. Further, new steps are added to the existing Central Plains sequence and certain new formulations of the older data are presented. Attainment of these new perspectives permits a reconsideration of the archeology of the Central Plains and its relationship to that of ad joining areas. Finally and in addition to these purely anthropological considerations, this material is relevant to recent studies in allied fields. Brief mention, therefore, will be made of the relationship of this study to recent publications in ecology, geology, and plant geography.