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Modeling Prehistoric High Altitude Camps in the Great Basin

Julie Julison, Dr. Pei-Lin Yu

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Research Question

Map of locations in California, Nevada, and Utah
Figure 1. Map of Archaeological High Altitude Sites in the Great Basin. California: White Mountains; Nevada: Toiyabe Range, Alta Toquima, Snake Range, Ruby Mountains, Jarbridge Mountains; Utah: Fish Lake, Deep Creek Mountains

In many of the low elevation areas in the Great Basin between the Middle Archaic (5,000-1,000 B.C.) and the Late Archaic period (1,000 B.C. to A.D. 500.) there were significant climatic changes that occurred which shifted food procurement strategies from hunting to plant intensification. This report re-examines prior archaeological data to determine if the same subsistence strategies extend to high altitude environments during the same time periods (Figure 1).


Some high altitude locations have distinct features and diagnostic projectile points that suggest a Middle Archaic time period, along with a Late Archaic component which includes dwellings and a much broader diverse artifact assemblage.

By looking at faunal remains and plant materials in food contexts we can suggest what people were eating.


Binford database, created by Lewis Binford and A. L. Johnson, designed to assist in calculating predictions about various conditions and subsistence strategies (Binford, 2001; Binford and Johnson, 2014; Johnson, In Press).

Graph, high elevation subsistence and mobility patterns in the Great Basin, contact presenter for specific data
Figure 2. Expected percentage on hunting subsistence strategies with the number of residential moves per year. In locations over 6,000 feet there is a positive correlation with a hunting strategy and frequency of moves by groups per year.
Graph, low elevation subsistence and mobility patters in the Great Basin, contact presenter for specific data
Figure 3. Expected percentage on hunting subsistence strategies with number of residential moves per year. negative correlation between the percentage of hunting subsistence with the number of moves per year.

By looking at the total identified animal bones (n=1,780) for the Middle Archaic and (n=3,476) in the Late Archaic from the White Mountain sites, though the amounts are different, the overall percentages are very similar (Figures 4 and 5). For instance, the yellow bellied marmot is (n = 1351) or 76% in Middle Archaic previllage sites and (n = 2,822) or 81% of the total in the Late Archaic village sites (Figure 6).


This poster’s purpose was to re-examine faunal evidence from high altitude sites to possibly determine if other subsistence strategies were being utilized. The archaeological evidence seems to suggest that in higher elevations that the focus is predominately on hunting, even though groundstone was located in the village sites in the Late Archaic period.

Also, there was no macro or micro evidence that demonstrated that large amounts of plant materials were being processed.

76% yellow bellied marmot, 4% golden ground squirrel, 17% bighorn sheep, 3% asst other faunal remains
Figure 4. Faunal analysis of Middle Archaic pre-village site. Yellow belly marmot has the highest percentage of identified bones in both Middle and Late Archaic periods.
81% yellow bellied marmot, 5% golden ground squirrel, 6% bighorn sheep, 5 % asst other faunal remains, 3% mountain cottontail
Figure 5. Faunal analysis of Late Archaic village site.
Figure 6. Yellow bellied marmot


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Additional Information

For questions or comments about this research, contact Julie Julison at