Thomas, D., Bean, J., Burns, G. R., Canaday, T., Charlet, D., Colwell, R. K., … Stevens, N. E. (2020). Alpine archaeology of Alta Toquima and the Mt. Jefferson Tablelands (Nevada) : the archaeology of Monitor Valley, contribution 4.
Thomas, D., J. Bean, Gregory R. Burns, T. Canaday, D. Charlet, R. K. Colwell, B. Culleton, et al. “Alpine Archaeology of Alta Toquima and the Mt. Jefferson Tablelands (Nevada) : the Archaeology of Monitor Valley, Contribution 4.” (2020).
Thomas, D., et al. Alpine Archaeology of Alta Toquima and the Mt. Jefferson Tablelands (Nevada) : the Archaeology of Monitor Valley, Contribution 4. 2020.
The Central Mountains Archaic began with the arrival of foraging populations in the Intermountain West about 6000 years ago. This migration coincided with the “extremely dramatic” winter-wet event of 4350 cal b.c. and the arrival of piñon pine forests in the central Great Basin. Human foragers likely played a significant role in the rapid spread of piñon across the central and northeastern Great Basin. Logistic hunters exploited local bighorn populations, sometimes serviced by hunting camps (the “man caves” such as Gatecliff Shelter, Triple T Shelter, and several others) and they staged communal pronghorn drives at lower elevations. As climate cooled and became more moist, logistic bighorn hunting gradually shifted downslope, then apparently faded away about 1000 cal b.c. Communal pronghorn driving persisted into the historic era in the central Great Basin. This volume, the first in the Alta Toquima trilogy, describes and analyzes more than 100 alpine hunting features on the Mt. Jefferson tablelands. High-elevation, logistical bighorn hunting virtually disappeared across the central Great Basin with the onset of the Late Holocene Dry Period (about 750–850 cal b.c.), giving way to an alpine residential pattern at Alta Toquima (26NY920) and elsewhere on Mt. Jefferson. Situated at almost exactly 11,000 ft (3352 m) above sea level, Alta Toquima was sited on the south summit of Mt. Jefferson (the third-highest spot in the state of Nevada), where at least 31 residential stone structures were emplaced along this steep, east-facing slope. When first recorded in 1978, Alta Toquima was the highest American Indian village site known in the Northern Hemisphere. This volume discusses the material culture, plant macrofossils, vertebrate fauna, and radiocarbon dating for Alta Toquima. Bayesian analysis of 95 14C dates documents an initial occupation of Alta Toquima at 1370–790 cal b.c., with the sporadic settlements persisting until immediately before European contact. These alpine residences are the most dramatic examples of the intensified provisioning strategies that began in the Central Mountains Archaic about 3000 years ago, broadening the diet breadth to include plant and animal resources previously considered too costly. The oldest summertime residence at Alta Toquima correlates with the onset of Late Holocene Dry Period (LHDP) aridity (~750 cal b.c.), and these houses were episodically occupied only during the driest intervals throughout the next 1500 dramatic years of abrupt climate change. During the intervening wetter stretches, Alta Toquima was abandoned in favor of subalpine basecamps. This sequenced intensification predated the arrival of bow technology in the central Great Basin by more than a millennium. Exactly the opposite sequencing took place a few miles to the north, when Gatecliff Shelter was abandoned during LHDP aridity—precisely when the first summertime settlements appeared at Alta Toquima. This pattern reversed again when lowland habitats became sufficiently well watered to again support summertime patches of seeds and geophytes (~150 cal b.c.–cal a.d. 100). Alta Toquima families responded by abandoning (temporarily) their alpine summertime camps to repurpose former “man caves” like Gatecliff and Triple T shelters into family settlements. The Monitor Valley sequence documents several syncopated lowland-alpine, wet-dry reversals, reflecting an adaptive diversity that spanned more than two millennia. The drought terminating cal a.d. 1150 devastated much of the western Great Basin and American Southwest, but its impact was less severe in central Nevada. Although subalpine sites were again abandoned during the drought buildup that peaked in the mid-12th century, summertime occupation of Alta Toquima became more commonplace, although it increased notably during the ~cal a.d. 1200–1400 aridity and persisted throughout the Little Ice Age. The Alta Toquima and related Mt. Jefferson archaeological projects had their beginnings in the late 1960s with my dissertation fieldwork for the University of California (Davis) in the Reese River Valley of central Nevada (Thomas, 1971, 1973). Although there was no concerted effort specifically to survey high-altitude areas of the Toiyabe Range, the overall research objectives stressed identification of archaeological patterning beyond the obvious base camps on the valley floor. The regional random sampling procedure employed in the Reese River Ecological Project identified several hunting-specific features, including one high-altitude cluster of hunting features located in the Toiyabes (La1072): distinctive cirquelike hollows at the head of Knox and Crane canyons containing a remarkably large number of hunting losses. Our research in Monitor Valley proper began during the summer of 1970, when my crew (also from the University of California, Davis) excavated at Toquima Cave on Petes Summit and conducted initial testing of Gatecliff Shelter. The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) continued this fieldwork until 1978, encompassing several excavations and a regional random sampling of the northern portion of the Toquima Range (Thomas, 1983a, 1983b, 1988). Throughout, this research design stressed the importance of transcending the obvious archaeological site to examine those sources of potential information too often overlooked in then-traditional archaeological excavations and testing. This broad-based approach required that crews examine not just the residential base camp, but that they search for subsidiary aspects of adaptive technology, including the house ring, bedrock grinding feature, quarry, prehistoric trail, and rock art site—collectively referred to as “satellite sites” (Thomas and McKee, 1974). We were first alerted to the potential of highelevation satellite sites on Mt. Jefferson by C. Glade Quilter, the Tonopah District Ranger who had previously arranged for an American Museum of Natural History horseback survey of Table Mountain in the Monitor Range (described in Thomas, 1988: 316–324). During the summer of 1977, Quilter told us of a number of anomalous stone structures observed by Forest Service personnel near the summit of Mt. Jefferson. He provided photographs of what turned out to be stone hunting features. CHAPTER 1