Geoarchaeological analysis of two back-barrier islands and their relationship to the changing landscape of coastal Georgia, U.S.A.
Turck, John Anthony
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This study examines the past human settlement system on the coast of Georgia from 12,000-1,000 B.P. (the Paleoindian through Late Woodland periods) in relation to landscape change. I take a landscape approach to understanding settlement, incorporating geomorphology, formation processes, a distributional approach to archaeological data, and landscape ecology metrics. Archaeological surveys of two back-barrier islands, Mary Hammock (9MC351) and Patterson Island (9MC493), are combined with non-archaeological paleoenvironmental data, and compared to changes in sea level, and to archaeological surveys from other environmental settings, to understand the change in human occupation in McIntosh County, GA. Numerous environmental datasets, including present-day elevations, former surfaces under the marsh, bathymetric data, soils, and wetlands, were incorporated together. These data were combined with changes in sea level over time, creating a dynamic model of landscape change. This model is used to create predictions about human settlement patterns in relation to the marsh-estuarine system for McIntosh County in general, and the back-barrier area specifically. These predictions were then tested with prehistoric site distributions of McIntosh County, as well as to prehistoric sherd densities of various surveys. Analysis revealed that terminal Middle Archaic sites (~5,000 B.P.) with evidence of coastal adaptations should be found within present-day McIntosh County. Because there are no such sites, I suggest that there may have been an abandonment of the coast at this time. The explosion in Late Archaic sites, then, may have been from an influx of people to the Georgia coast. Back-barrier islands were always part of the settlement system. The intensity of back-barrier island utilization may be related to their proximity to larger landmasses (the mainland and major barrier islands), and the different types of settlement systems associated with those landmasses. The intense utilization of back-barrier islands at certain times suggests that they may have been permanently settled. Another explanation for their intense use may be that these are relatively small islands where activities would have been concentrated. The predictions of the model were not always substantiated, indicating that changes in sea level and marsh-estuarine resources were not the only reason for changes in settlement and subsistence patterns.