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Differential Temporal and Spatial Preservation of Archaeological Sites in a Great Lakes Coastal Zone

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

William A. Lovis
Department of Anthropology and MSU Museum, 355 Baker Hall, 655 Auditorium Road, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1118 (
G. William Monaghan
Mathers Museum/Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, 423 North Fess Street, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47408 (
Alan F. Arbogast
Department of Geography, 121 Geography Building, 673 Auditorium Road, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1117 (
Steven L. Forman
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, 2440 Science and Engineering Science, 845 West Taylor Street, University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago, IL 80607-7059 (


Analysis of regional site taphonomy that incorporates depositional and postdepositional histories has become increasingly important in understanding the nature of preserved site populations and the strategies necessary for their discovery. We applied a systematic archival and field strategy directed at understanding such taphonomic processes in the coastal sand dunes of the northern and eastern Lake Michigan basin, and coupled these with a tactically directed program of OSL, 14C, and AMS dating. We demonstrate that long-term geological processes including lake level variation, episodic dune activation and stabilization, and the long-term effects of postglacial isostatic adjustments have markedly affected the potential for preservation of sites in coastal dune contexts over time and across subregions of the basin. Preservation potential for different time periods in coastal dunes is largely not synchronous with that of southern Michigan floodplains, posing substantial inferential problems. The archaeology of coastal dunes specifically, and coastal zones generally, must be used with extreme caution when cast against archaeological data from landforms with different formation processes and histories. While particularly true for the Great Lakes region, these results have implications for regional research broadly.



El análisis de la tafonomía regional de sitios que incorporan las historias deposicionales y pos-deposicionales se ha vuelto aún más importante en el entendimiento de las características de poblaciones preservadas en su emplazamiento y las estrategias necesarias para su descubrimiento. Aplicamos una estrategia sistemática de gabinete y campo enfocada al entendímiento de dichos procesos tafonómicos en las dunas costeras de la cuenca septentrional y oriental del Lago Michigan. Asimismo combinamos este proceso con otro diseñado tácticamente de dotación por Luminiscencia Estimulada Ópticamente (LEO/OSL), C14 y Espectómetro Acelerado de Masas (EAM/AMS). De este modo, mostramos que los procesos geológicos a largo plazo, incluyendo la variación de nivel del lago, la activación y estabilización episódica de las dunas, y los efectos a largo plazo de ajustes isostáticos pos-glaciales, han influido en la posibilidad de preservar los sitios en los contextos temporales de dunas costeras, a través de las subregiones de la cuenca. La posibilidad de preservar distintos periodos de tiempo en dunas costeras no es sincrónica con la de los llanos aluviales del sur de Michigan, causando graves problemas inferenciales. Específicamente, la arqueología en las dunas costeras, y en las zonas costeras en general, se debe de practicar con mucha precaución cuando se comparan datos arqueológicos de geomorfologías con distintas historias y procesos deformación. Aún cuando estos procesos han dado resultados positivos en la investigación de la región de los Grandes Lagos, es importante recalcar que este tipo de investigación regional se puede aplicar ampliamente a otras regiones.

Copyright © The Society for American Archaeology 2012

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