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Geoarchaeology of the Louisiana Coastal Plain

Geoarchaeology of the Louisiana Coastal Plain

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Published by etchplain
Draft copy of a Cultural Resource Management report on the archaeology and geoarchaeology of the Louisiana Chenier Plain and Mississippi River Delta. I am the author of Chapters III, IV, and V of this report.
Draft copy of a Cultural Resource Management report on the archaeology and geoarchaeology of the Louisiana Chenier Plain and Mississippi River Delta. I am the author of Chapters III, IV, and V of this report.

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Published by: etchplain on Aug 15, 2009
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11/28/2012

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In many parts of the United States, Holocene and Late Pleistocene sediments exist only as a thin
veneer of sediment or topsoil overlying either unconsolidated sediments or bedrock that predates human
occupation of North America. As a result, archeological deposits typically are restricted to a thin, relatively
uncomplicated, layer of alluvium, colluvium, or residuum. The stratigraphy of such deposits for the most
part can be described In simple stratigraphic terms, (Stein 1987, 1990), without recourse to the complex
assemblage of stratigraphic methodology normally employed by geologists.

However, within the Louisiana Coastal Zone, a thick sequence of deltaic, fluvial, and eolian
sediments have accumulated during the Late Pleistocene Stage and Holocene Epoch. The shifting courses
and delta lobes of the Mississippi and Red Rivers, and the shifting shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico have
deposited a thick and intricately stacked sequence of Late Pleistocene and Holocene coastal, deltaic, and
fluvial sediments. Multiple, independent, and formally defined stratigraphic classification systems must be
an essential part of the Interdisciplinary research approach used to describe, correlate, and interpret the
complex succession of Late Quaternary and Holocene sedimentary deposits which have accumulated within
the coastal zone (Autin, Snead et al. 1990:21).

Geoarcheologlsts, archeological geologists, and archeologists working within the coastal zone
unfortunately must contend with an intricate system of stratigraphic terms. However, mastery of stratigraphic
nomenclature and an understanding of depositional processes is essential for determining how natural
processes have modified the archeological record within the coastal zone.

If stratigraphic analysis is going to be of use to archeological research, stratigraphic nomenclature
must be more precisely applied than It has been In the past. For example, criteria, In addition to elevation
and morphology, need to be used to map the distribution of geomorphic surfaces and to Infer their age and
origin. Furthermore, the age of a geomorphic surface should not be assumed automatically to be the same
IMf ,--'!.§JhElafIe~o!.tll.8Jledlments that underlie it. In addition, the different types of stratigraphic units need to be
kept separate and~hybridized as previous studies of the geomorphology and Quaternary Geology of the
coastal zone often have done. Finally, the use of models that propose simple one-to-one correlation
between the formation of Individual paleosols, geomorphic surfaces, alloformations, or formations with glacial
cycles or sea level fluctuations to date these stratigraphic units should be avoided if at all possible.

Five types of stratigraphic units, geomorphic surfaces (morphostratigraphy), lithostratigraphy,
allostratlgraphy, pedostratlgraphy, and Chronostratigraphy, are important to the correlation and dating of
Holocene and Late Pleistocene deposits within the coastal zone. Three of these types of stratigraphic units,
geomorphic surfaces, lithostratigraphy, and allostratlgraphy, are specifically discussed in the following

20

paragraphs. Two of these types of stratigraphic units, chronostratigraphy and pedostratigraphy, are _
discussed by Autin, Burns et al. (1990). Autin, Snead et al. (1990), and by the North American Commission
on Stratigraphic Nomenclature (1983).

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