Determining the genesis and cultural significance of deep soil features at southeastern Connecticut's Preston Plains Site

Date of Completion

January 2010


Anthropology, Archaeology|Cultural Resources Management|Geomorphology|Native American Studies




Archaeologists excavating Archaic and Woodland Period sites on sandy, unconsolidated soils in the Northeastern U.S. have identified deep soil features (hereafter DSFs) that are challenging to interpret. Though hundreds of these basin-shaped features have been recorded, archaeologists do not agree as to whether or not they are anthropogenic. Competing hypotheses have suggested that DSFs constitute the remnants of semi-subterranean pit houses, or, alternately, soil disturbances generated by naturally occurring tree throws. This dissertation presents a case study of a DSF complex at southeastern Connecticut's Preston Plains Site. Its analytical design combines scholarship, empirically-based data assessments, and hypothesis testing to holistically inform an interpretation of the genesis and cultural significance of DSFs here. Its results discount the pit house hypothesis while supporting the tree throw hypothesis according to multiple lines of evidence. A simple and flexible model is proposed to explain how tree throws are modified through time to express the variety of forms and stratigraphies observed in DSFs, furthermore, it is determined that the pit-and-mound microtopographies afforded by ancient tree throws at Preston Plains were targeted by small groups of Late Archaic Period (ca. 5000-3000 BP) foragers as elements of short-term residential sites. While archaeologists have already determined that Mesolithic and early Neolithic Europeans utilized such topographies as site elements, this study provides the most detailed set of supporting evidence of such behavior to date. ^