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Geoarchaeology and Holocene landscape history of the Carson Desert, western Nevada1

By
David Rhode
David Rhode
Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada 89512, USA
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Kenneth D. Adams
Kenneth D. Adams
Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada 89512, USA
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Robert G. Elston
Robert G. Elston
Department of Anthropology, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA
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Published:
January 01, 2000

Abstract

Human populations arrived in the Carson Desert of the western Great Basin by ~11 ka a time period shortly after the desiccation of Lake Lahontan. Since that time, significant lake-level fluctuations have occurred but the precise timing, duration, and elevation attained by each of these post-highstand lakes is a matter of some debate. Until a well dated, detailed chronology of post-highstand lake levels is constructed, much of the archaeological record in this area will remain without a strong paleoenvironmental framework. This field trip will present preliminary results from current efforts to define the paleoenvironmental framework and its relationship to the archaeological record.

For this trip we have chosen four stops that exemplify latest Pleistocene to late Holocene conditions and highlight this multidisciplinary effort to place the archaeological record into a paleoenvironmental context. The late Pleistocene/early Holocene Sadmat site is located on and near a series of beach ridges ranging in elevation from ~1220–1235 m. These beach ridges may date from the Younger Dryas period (10.9–10.0 ka), suggesting that the site was occupied when large lakes were present in the Carson Sink. A synthesis of existing and new data is next presented for Hidden Cave, which possesses a stratified paleoenvironmental record of at least the last 20,000 yrs, and a record of human occupation dating as early as 9 ka, but used most intensively during the Neoglacial, ca. 3.8–3.6 ka. The Salt Wells beach barrier and surrounding features provides evidence that a substantial lake was present in the Carson Sink <2 ka, a lake that would submerge the late Holocene archaeological sites in the Stillwater Marsh beneath at least 20 m of water. The fortuitous exposure of a large number of late-Holocene archaeological sites in the Stillwater Marsh in the 1980s has greatly increased our knowledge of how native people lived in and used the Marsh. Placing these and other archaeological sites in the Carson Desert into a dynamic paleoenvi-ronmental context provides new insights into the environmental challenges facing foraging societies in the region, and how the changing distribution of natural resources affected their activities.

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GSA Field Guide

Great Basin and Sierra Nevada

David R. Lageson
David R. Lageson
Department of Earth Sciences Montana State University Bozeman, MT 59717 USA
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Stephen G. Peters
Stephen G. Peters
Reno Field Office Mackay School of Mines, MS-176 University of Nevada Reno, Nevada 89557-0047 USA
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Mary M. Lahren
Mary M. Lahren
Department of Geological Sciences MS-l72 University of Nevada Reno, Nevada 89557 USA 2000
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Geological Society of America
Volume
2
ISBN electronic:
9780813756028
Publication date:
January 01, 2000

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