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Late Paleoindians (10,500 to 9,500 Years BP)

Evidence places the demise of the Clovis culture at about 10,700 to 10,500 years BP (Blanton and Sassaman 1989). This change may have been due to climatic changes, which affected hunting strategies. Even during the Clovis period some changes in spear point style were noted in some southeastern locales, such as Cumberland and Suwanee. These changes in technology were slight and continued to reflect Clovis culture.

However, by 10,500 years BP, a shift in spear point size is apparent in Quad and Simpson points. This size reduction may be attributable to changing subsistence activities (Milanovich and Fairbanks 1980, Walthall 1980). By about 10,000 years BP, a number of new spear point styles were being made. Hardaway and Dalton spear points, considered transitional technology from the Paleo to Archaic Period, represent a possible shift toward smaller territorial exploitation and an increasing reliance on hunting more modern game species, such as deer, elk, bison, turkeys, and squirrels (Coe 1952, Goodyear 1982, Goodyear and others 1979, Walthall 1980). These are the same species that continued to be hunted by southeastern Indians until Europeans arrived. Also, there seems to have been an increase in gathering of foods, such as hickory nuts, walnuts, acorns, and fruits, suggesting a changing culture and possibly more defined territories (Goodyear 1982, Walthall 1980).

The patterns for seasonal rounds in the Southeast were being established during this period. In the fall, hunters and their families moved to favorable hunting grounds to hunt deer and gather nuts and late-season fruits for winter. At these locations, fire was used to drive game and clear out brushy areas to enhance spring fruiting plants, as well as to encourage more palatable forage for wildlife.

Burning the underbrush also reduced concealment of large predators that could threaten lives, especially of children. Such burning was a defensive measure and in later times would apply not only to predatory animals, but also to human predators. In areas where nut-bearing trees grew, burning the leaves and underbrush exposed the nuts, allowing quicker and more complete gathering. Humans thereby increased the chances for success in competing with animals for this valuable food. These methods continued to be used by southeastern Indians thousands of years later (Catseby 1974, Hudson 1976, Mooney 1900, Walthall 1980).

Changes in climate and vegetation altered wildlife habitats and perhaps caused rarity or extinction of big game like mammoths, horses, and mastodons. In some areas, southeastern Indians began shifting their hunting activities toward animals that remained in the Southeast. The extinction or rarity of big game species appears evident by 10,000 years BP (Graham and Mead 1987, Hester 1960, Martin 1967). The disappearance or dispersion of many species that had existed in Southeastern North America coincides with the end of the Pleistocene (Pielou 1991).

Archaeological evidence indicates that at a very early period, white-tailed deer became the most hunted game species, providing the bulk of the native's protein (Hudson 1976). Even though elk, bison, turkey, and a host of small mammals were taken when available, deer became the target species for management. The reproductive rate of deer was better than that of most other large animals left in the Southeast at the end of the Ice Age. The favorable response of white-tailed deer to a changing ecosystem during the glacial retreat surely did not go unnoticed. As a result, it did not take long for the natives to develop exploitive strategies to take large numbers of deer. Deer populations are not self-regulated. Instead, their numbers rise and fall sharply with fluctuations in their food supply, a key factor recognized by the natives in gaining control over their hunting environment (Hartley 1977).

Other than during the rutting season, it is difficult to approach deer. Bucks are distracted and relax their usual defenses during rut, which occurs in the Southeast from late September through November. Also in the fall, deer are attracted to oak forests to feed on acorns; the natives surely recognized that deer reached their optimal weight at this time (Hudson 1976).

If mesic climax forest with sparse herbaceous understory had dominated the landscape, as has been suggested by some, the low browse potential would have supported only sparse and scattered deer populations. Oaks would have been less abundant, which would have reduced a major food source for deer and other game. Since both deer and oaks were important in the native's diet, it was beneficial to enhance the environment for these species and produce predictable environments.

Fire also created prime habitat for turkeys because of increased insect availability and plants that produce soft fruit or acorns. An interspersion of grassy, permanent forest openings in relatively open forest increases turkey populations (Blackburn and others 1975, Davis 1976). In addition, bear, elk, bison, and a host of smaller mammals benefited from fire regimes that increased oaks and produced an open landscape bearing nuts, fruits, and berries (Bendell 1974). The result of this vegetation manipulation by humans created habitat that was conducive to large deer herds. Thousands of years later, Europeans noted the large deer herds. Historical records indicate that deer herds contained as many as 200 animals—a stark contrast to present herds.

The 2,000 years of American Indian burning during the Clovis and Late Paleo Period developed vegetative patterns that would dominate the Southeast for the next 10,000 years. Thousands of years of burning created a landscape that was conducive to frequent, low-intensity fires. These burning regimes produced a mosaic of open forest with savannas, prairies, and a great abundance of herbaceous vegetation and increased the vigor of the ecosystem by releasing nutrients from vegetation to be recycled through the ecosystem (Barden 1997, Bonnichsen and others 1987, Lefler 1967, Rostlund 1957, Vorsey 1971).

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content: Wayne D. Carroll
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created: 4-OCT-2002
modified: 08-Dec-2013