Saturday, August 02, 2008

Lithic Mulch

I have done field ecology throughout New Mexico and Arizona -- but no matter how long I live in the Southwest it seems there is always more to discover...I recently discovered the existence of lithic or cobble mulch gardens while perusing a report by Richard D. Periman featured in "Desired future conditions for Southwestern riparian ecosystems: Bringing interests and concerns together," produced by the Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, and have spent an enjoyable morning reading some of Dale Lightfoot's papers about sites in Northern New Mexico and the Safford Valley of Arizona. Both are areas where I have spent considerable time, and I am now wondering if I have unknowingly visited some of these prehistoric gardens. I am especially interested to learn how thoroughly these type of sites have been studied...from my natural history work I understand that sometimes the best preservation strategy for valuable sites is to keep them undocumented, but I wonder if there is a GIS layer of inventoried sites? These archeologists deserve congratulations on bringing this remarkable phenomenon to light; discoveries like these may help transform how we ecologists think about the Natural Range of Variation (NRV) in these areas.

"Lithic-mulched features have not been thoroughly studied, in the USA or elsewhere. Details are spotty...The research by Maxwell and Anscheutz in the Ojo Caliente Valley in northern New Mexico is very good. The Fish’s work on Hohokam Arizona is good. Berlin et al. 1977 are quite thorough, as is Engel’s work in the Andes. Much remains to be done at all other sites associated with lithic mulching. I understand your comment about leaving things undocumented. It’s best, sometimes, though in cases where features are on the verge of being obliterated, as were many of the gravel mulched plots I worked on in 1988-89 south of Santa Fe (1990 dissertation and subsequent articles), it’s best to record what you can, when you can (i.e. salvage archaeology).

I know of no GIS inventory related to lithic mulching anywhere. I have no plans on the immediate horizon to work on this topic in the U.S. Southwest, but I didn’t have any plans to work on the Safford project, either, until Bill Doolittle approached me about joining his project and I could clearly see a way to contribute to the project."

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