SAND DUNE ENVIRONMENTS IN FIRST NATIONS LIFEWAYS: HOLISTIC INTERPRETATION FOR THE MIDDLE AND LATE PRECONTACT PERIODS ON THE NORTHERN PLAINS
Over the past forty years, archaeologists have identified hundreds of Middle and Late Precontact archaeological sites in sand dune areas across the Northern Plains. Varying from isolated finds to complex multi-component sites, they represent a set of complex and integrated behaviours that to date have not been examined in a holistic manner across both time and space. This work uses the concepts of Island Theory, Historical Ecology, and Possibilism to examine the environmental, social, and spiritual/cultural roles that sand dune locations played in the lifeways of Northern Plains groups during the Middle and Late Precontact periods. This theoretical basis allows for the development of a holistic interpretation of First Nations behaviour in relation to dune environments, creating an interpretive narrative that better accounts for social, economic, political, and environmental behaviour than do previous investigations. Further, the concept of human agency as a factor in influencing the environmental conditions and physical attributes to create anthropogenic landscapes is examined. This work presents a synthesis of past work completed within dune environments, including a reassessment of past radiocarbon dates obtained from Northern Plains dune sites, as well as the history of dune usage across the study area as both resource bases and as sacred landscapes. These data are analysed along with the results of field surveys and testing programs to determine if landscape usage observed at sand dunes varies from the surrounding grasslands, as well as with palaeoenvironmental and geoarchaeological data to determine what role environmental variation played in the usage of sand dune environments. What emerges from this analysis indicates that in the Precontact era Indigenous people viewed and exploited dune environments differently than the environments that surround them. Patterns of seasonal usage, and in some cases cultural contact, are present within the archaeological record. This pattern varies, based upon the cultural group in question, and is influenced by such factors as regional climate variation, dune stabilization and hydrology, the diverse resource base that is present within dune environments, traditional subsistence practices, and the spiritual beliefs associated with aeolian environments on the Northern Plains for specific groups. Further evidence indicates that these practices impacted dune environments, transforming them in part into anthropogenic landscapes.
Northern Plains, archaeology, history, ethnography, geography
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)