Paleoindian Research in Virginia: A Synthesis

J. Mark Wittkofski and Theodore R. Reinhart, editors. Archeological Society of Virginia Special Publications No. 19, Richmond, 1989. x + 204 pages, figures, tables, references. $15.00 (paper)

Reviewed by Dennis C. Curry
Maryland Geological Survey, Division of Archeology

Paleoindian Research in Virginia is the result of a public symposium organized jointly by the Council of Virginia Archaeologists and the Archeological Society of Virginia, and held at the College of William and Mary in November, 1988. The volume consists of six main papers, along with introductory, summary, and "prospects for the future" remarks.

Clearly, the pivotal paper in this volume is the lead article by William M. Gardner. Gardner, focusing on his nearly two decades of work at the Flint Run Paleoindian Complex in the Shenandoah Valley, examines Paleoindian settlement and lifeways in the Middle Atlantic region. While much of what is presented has been said by Gardner before, this is an excellent overview which summarizes his current thoughts. It is also vintage Gardner at his reads easily, reads fast, and makes you think.

Michael Barber and Eugene Barfield discuss Paleoindian chronology in Virginia and, faced with a lack of radiocarbon dates, concede that Gardner's temporal reconstruction provides the most reliable chronology currently available. E. Randolph Turner presents an interesting look at Paleoindian population in Virginia, estimating 500 - 1000 people at around 8300 B.C. and hypothesizing the presence of three or four macrobands in the state at the end of the Paleoindian period. Next, Michael Johnson provides a detailed analysis of Paleoindian lithic technology, comparing and contrasting Virginia artifacts with those from other eastern United States Paleoindian sites. He notes a curious dichotomy in fluting techniques -- with direct percussion used at the quarry-dependent Paleoindian sites in Virginia, and indirect percussion used at quarry-independent sites in the Northeast such as Debert, Vail, and others.

C. Clifford Boyd examines Paleoindian paleoecology and subsistence in Virginia and presents a surprisingly detailed view of Paleoindians roaming the landscape in search of mammoth and mastodon. How Thunderbird and Williamson -- or other Middle Atlantic sites such as Shawnee-Minisink and Shoop --fit this scenario is unexplained, and the possibility that Paleoindians "never laid eyes on" a mammoth or mastodon in Virginia is not mentioned.

The final formal paper from the symposium is Theodore Reinhart's look at Virginia Paleoindians in a North American perspective. The paper asks more questions than it answers, but as an overview it is fitting and sets the stage for observations by Daniel Mouer and Jeffrey Hantman on the future of Virginia Paleoindian studies.

Paleoindian Research in Virginia is an admirable work. The symposium organizers and authors selected a difficult subject and dealt with it as best as possible given their self-imposed restrictions based on modern political boundaries. The editors are to be commended for actually getting these November, 1988 papers in print by July, 1989. My only criticism, though, is aimed at the editorial and typographical errors which abound in this volume; most are annoying, but some defy comprehension. In this regard, I would have gladly waited for publication until August, 1989! Nonetheless, the volume is worthwhile and, if the Council of Virginia Archaeologists and the Archeological Society of Virginia can pull off the planned symposium for subsequent cultural periods and publish them in similar fashion, Virginia will soon have a comprehensive baseline study which will be the envy of every other Middle Atlantic state.

Reprinted by permission from the Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology, 1990, (6): 134-135.