Prehistoric settlement variability in the Grosshopper area, east-central Arizona

TitlePrehistoric settlement variability in the Grosshopper area, east-central Arizona
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication1980
AuthorsSullivan, A
Academic DepartmentAnthropology
UniversityUniversity of Arizona

The variability of prehistoric settlements and settlement systems (settlement variability) is a result of the kinds of activities conducted (functional variability) and how long and intensively settlements were occupied (occupational variability). Previous studies of settlement variability, especially in the American Southwest, have emphasized primarily functional variability. This study explores the implications of both functional and occupational variability in contributing to settlement variability and how these factors in turn influence our ability to reconstruct past settlement systems.

In investigating the effects of functional and occupational variability on settlement variability, an attempt was made to control the effects of other variables that might possibly contribute to settlement variability. Accordingly, the experimental design for this study required that a sufficient number of archaeological sites of the same developmental stage and cultural affiliation occurring in the same homogeneous environment be located. These design requirements were fulfilled by the discovery of the Pitiful Flats locality located midway between Grasshopper and Cibecue in east-central Arizona. The surface material of 34 archaeological sites (12 lithic sites, 22 ceramic sites) on Pitiful Flats was systematically collected to ensure data comparability.

To control further for the effects of functional variability, interpretation-free units of analysis were developed for the lithic and ceramic assemblages by means of taxonomically based typologies. Typological and metric variation in these units of analysis, as well as variation in non-assemblage measurements (site size, density, and distribution of occupational debris), is used as evidence to support conclusions about site-type differences in lithic technology and settlement function, and to develop an occupational history of each Pitiful Flats site. These site-specific inferences provide a basis for reconstructing the structure of an extinct settlement system in the Grasshopper area. This reconstruction suggests that prior to the appearance of masonry architecture in the Grasshopper area, the basic regional settlement system consisted of a small number of "home bases" (permanently occupied habitations) and numerous sporadically occupied "work camps." The home base and work camps were spatially exclusive; the work camps were tethered to a particular home base. The tether settlement system explains many of the facts of the regional archaeological record. It also provides a basis for advancing the hypothesis that a modified form of swidden agriculture (non-slash and burn as opposed to slash and burn) was practiced. This form of cultivation was a non-labor-intensive technique for transforming a marginally productive environment for agricultural purposes. The demographic and social implications of the tether settlement model and the non-slash swidden hypothesis for understanding regional Grasshopper prehistory are also discussed.