|HISTORY OF RESEARCH
THE WATER CANYON PALEOINDIAN SITE
By Robert Dello-Russo, Director
Vance T. Holliday
Susie Smith, Consulting Palynologist, Flagstaff, Arizona
The site is found at the east edge of the Water Canyon basin, among a series of dissected ridges formed by short tributaries of Water Canyon. The main branch of Water Canyon heads in the Magdalena Mountains to the west. As the waters issue eastward along the Water Canyon drainage, they encounter the flanks of the Socorro Mountains and turn abruptly to the north, meeting Nogal Canyon which then drains eastward through the Socorro Mountains to the Rio Grande. The Water Canyon site is one of a series of early-to-middle Holocene age archaeological sites eroding out of sediments along the Water Canyon drainage at the toe end of a large bajadas that flanks the Magdalenas. The site, as originally documented in 2001, covered an area of approximately 3250 sq m, and is located on a northeast-facing, gentle hill slope immediately above a small intermittent drainage (now referred to as "No Name Arroyo") that trends from the west-northwest to the east-southeast (Figure 2). The site is found at an elevation of approximately 1760 m (5780 ft) in a juniper savannah vegetation community.
As originally documented and interpreted, the site consisted of a small, open, flaked stone artifact scatter representing the remains of both a Late Paleoindian (Firstview/Cody Complex) occupation (~12,000-8000 cal yrs BP) and a possible Middle Archaic (San Jose) occupation (5000-3800 cal years BP) during which hunting-related and processing-related activities were undertaken. To the north and west of the original site boundary was also an extensive lens of organic-rich sediment exposed in an arroyo wall (Dello-Russo 2002:12, 50) (Figure 3). During a 2008 site visit by RDR, VTH, and Bruce Huckell (University of New Mexico) we hypothesized an early Holocene or even late Pleistocene age for the organic-rich lens based on development of the surface soil formed in sediments that buried the lens. The dark color of the soil plus hints of iron reduction below also suggested formation in moist conditions with high biological productivity. The wetter paleo-conditions further suggested some antiquity to the darker zone. Three radiocarbon samples from the dark lens yielded ages (top to bottom) of ~9285, ~9750, and ~11,030 C14 yrs BP. This confirmed the interpretation that the soil formed from the latest Pleistocene into the early Holocene. Further, the dating and the bone raised the possibility that in situ Paleoindian archaeological materials could be present.
At the start of the 2009 field season, small exposures of the dark gray deposit and iron-stained sediments were noted both downstream and slightly upstream of the original exposure. These exposures provided additional clues indicating that the highly organic buried soil was, in fact, part of a buried wet meadow deposit (Dr. David Love, NM Bureau of Mines, personal communication). Over time, the buried wet meadow deposit has come to be referred to as the "black mat", partially as a short-hand referent, and largely in deference to the significant background research on the subject completed by C. Vance Haynes (2008).
Testing of the black mat in the 2009 field season yielded flakes and additional bone. This confirmed our hypothesis that the unit be considered part of the Water Canyon archaeological site
Field Work at Water Canyon
We began systematic coring of the site using a Giddings hydraulic soil coring rig (Figure 4). This has allowed us to trace the stratigraphy throughout and beyond the site. In particular, the black mat was revealed to be a landscape-scale feature that extends well beyond the current boundaries of the site. Radiocarbon dates on charcoal and organic bulk sediment samples revealed that the black mat was extant, seemingly continuously, from the Late Pleistocene into the middle Holocene, and spanned the Clovis period (11,030 radiocarbon years ago) through the Folsom, Late Paleoindian and Early Archaic period (6385 radiocarbon years ago). It was unknown, at that time, if the deposit is older than Clovis. The bones recovered from the wet meadow deposit were thought to 1) come from Bison antiquus (occidentalis?), 2) date stratigraphically to the Late Paleoindian period and 3) be spatially associated with lithic artifacts.
The 2010 field season occurred during approximately one week under very high temperature conditions (Dello-Russo 2012). We dated a section of the bison femur (FS 1037) from Locus 1. The collagen in this sample dated to a 14C age of 8200±40 BP. Additional faunal material was encountered by mechanical coring and found to be buried deeply (at ca. 3.7 m below the surface) in the area to the NE of Locus 1. Although, as of 2010, no artifacts had been recovered in this area, the mean 14C date from Core 10-01 of 9717.78 ± 33.1 (11,096-11,225 cal yr BP), for two sediment samples surrounding the bone, suggests the presence of a second kill and processing event at the site.
In 2012, the focus of our efforts in Locus 1 (Figure 5) was to further examine the potential for early Holocene charcoal (thermal features or upslope forest fires?) and for other lithic tools and diagnostics in possible association with bison bones. Adult Bison antiquus bones, in a relatively high density, were discovered in the more eastern units of the excavation block. Although some of the bones were removed intact, others that exhibited green bone fractures required plaster jacketing. We have now identified the remains of one adult and one juvenile Bison antiquus in Locus 1. We completed a systematic OSL dating effort in Backhoe Trenches 4, 5 and 6 to continue to clarify the tempo of sediment deposition across the site, but particularly in Loci 1, 2 and 3.
We continued to systematically recover pollen samples at the site, either from mechanical cores and/or from hand-excavated exposures of Late Pleistocene sediments below the level of the active channel in No Name Arroyo (Locus 1). We also continued to collect sediment samples for chronometric dating and to test for the presence of paleobotanic proxy materials [pollen, phytoliths, diatoms, shell material (e.g. ostracods, gastropods), mollusks, fossil insects, macrobotanical specimens and faunal elements, including tooth enamel (for stable carbon isotopes)]. During the course of the coring effort we again encountered mammal bone samples at about 3.8 m below the surface in the area to the NE of Locus 1. This area is now designated as Locus 5.
Excavation efforts during the 2013 session focused solely on buried deposits in Locus 5 (Figure 6). To remove approximately 500 cu m of Holocene sediment overlying the buried bones seen in mechanical cores, we utilized a large track excavator and a backhoe. We soon found that the buried bone deposit sloped downward from the northwest to the southeast. In the northwestern corner of the grid, a resharpened Eden (Late Paleoindian) point was recovered in direct association with the bone bed, affirming the Cody Complex dates for that deposit. Additional OSL samples were taken from the Holocene overburden in Locus 5.
Lithic Raw Material Sourcing
Figure 1. Location map of the Water Canyon site.
Figure 2. Topographic plan view of the Water Canyon site.
Figure 3. View of the Black Mat exposed low in the wall of No Name Arroyo.
Figure 4. Locus 1 excavations.
Figure 5. Vance Holliday and former UA graduate student Andy Richard with Giddings soil coring rig.
Figure 6. Locus 5 excavations.
RESEARCHERS and VOLUNTEERS
Senior Crew: Dr. Robert Dello-Russo (Principal Investigator), Rusty Greaves (Field Director, Faunal Specialist), Dr. Vance Holliday (Soils, Geoarchaeology), Susie Smith (Pollen Specialist), Patrice Walker (Field Director), and Dr. Steve Hall (Soils, OSL).
University of Arizona: Leslie Aragon, Lindsay Bishop, Dr. Vance Haynes, Eric Heffter, Jennifer Kielhofer, Annie Martin, Ariel Myers, Jill Onken, Andy Richard, and Bill Reitze.
University of New Mexico: Dr. Bruce Huckell, and Chris Merriman
Eastern New Mexico University: Stacey Bennett, George Crawford, Dr. David Kilby, and Ethan Ortega.
Office of Archaeological Studies: Nancy Akins, Matt Barbour, Tom Ireland, Steve Lakatos, Steve Lentz, Sheila Martin, Tim Maxwell, Pam McBride, Steve Post, Judi Powell, Don Tatum, Dr. Wolky Toll, Rob Turner (report and poster preparation), and Karen Wening.
EMRTC: George Cline (heavy equipment operator)
Others: Dr. Jesse Ballenger, Dr. James Dello-Russo, Dr. Peter Kondrashev (snail ID), Dr. David Love, Gary Morgan, Beth Parisi, Dr. Steve Shackley (XRF), Dr. John Shelberg, and Lise Spargo.
Dello-Russo, Robert 2012. Continued Interdisciplinary Research at the Water Canyon Paleoindian Site (LA 134764), Socorro County, New Mexico - Interim Report for the 2010 Field Season and Data Recovery Plan for the 2012 Season. Preliminary Report No. 42 submitted to the NM Historic Preservation Division by the Office of Archaeological Studies, Santa Fe, NM.
Dello-Russo, Robert 2010. Archaeological Testing at the Water Canyon Site (LA 134764), Socorro County, New Mexico. Interim Report for the 2008 and 2009 Field Seasons. ERG Report Number 2009-09 submitted to the NM Historic Preservation Division by Escondida Research Group, LLC, Santa Fe, NM.
Dello-Russo, Robert 2002. A Cultural Resources Inventory of 472 Acres in Socorro County, New Mexico. The Archaeology of the EMRTC / GLINT Project Area. Report No. 2001-03 submitted to the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology by by Escondida Research Group, Socorro, NM.
Haynes, C. Vance, Jr. 2008. Younger Dryas "Black Mats" and the Rancholabrean Termination in North America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 105(18): 6520-6525.
Machette, Michael N. 1988. Quaternary Movement Along the La Jencia Fault, Central New Mexico. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1440. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington.
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