Human adaptation to the changing Northeastern environment at the end of the Pleistocene: Implications for the archaeological record

Date of Completion

January 1998


Anthropology, Archaeology




Paleoindian and Early Archaic archaeological sites are of particular importance in the Northeast because they reflect a period of change from an earlier adaptation to a boreal environment to one focused on the resources of the temperate forest. Even slight changes in the subsistence base can have profound implications for hunter-gatherer social organization, group composition, and patterns of seasonal mobility. An early Holocene archaeological site (the Hidden Creek site) has recently been excavated in Ledyard, Connecticut. This site provides valuable information concerning human lifeways during this poorly understood period of time.^ The focus of this dissertation is the effect of environmental change on hunter-gatherer populations in the Northeast between 11,000 and 8,000 years ago. Changes in the Northeast's environment between the late Pleistocene and the early Holocene periods would have had profound effects on the subsistence economy, hunter-gatherer social organization, and ultimately on the archaeological record of northeastern North America. Studies of human ecology and the paleoclimatic record are used to anticipate patterns in settlement, subsistence, group organization, and mobility. These expectations are then compared and contrasted to the archaeological record. Special emphasis is given to the Late Paleoindian Period through a detailed analysis of the Hidden Creek site. This site was occupied during the transition from a Paleoindian to Archaic pattern of life in the Northeast, and its better understanding may shed light on both of these periods.^ While the recovered artifacts provide a rare opportunity to view the material culture of these people, the significance of the finds lies in their potential to inform us about past human lifeways and about the human species in general. The northeastern Native Americans of 11,000 to 8,000 years ago proved flexible and adaptive in the face of a rapidly shifting resource base. A detailed analysis of the archaeological material of this time period, investigation of the record of climate and vegetation change, and a careful assessment of models of human ecology illuminates the human capacity to respond to such significant environmental change. ^