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Kansas Archaeology explores life of state's earliest inhabitants

Book features chapters by several KU authors

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They may not have sent text messages through cell phones or downloaded MP3 files, but as Jeannette Blackmar discovered, some of the earliest human inhabitants of prehistoric Kansas were just as tech savvy as we like to consider ourselves today.

Cover of the book entitled Kansas Archeology

"The people who were here 11,500 years ago were very intelligent and creative human beings," she said. "They had a lot of knowledge of their natural surroundings – they were incredibly savvy of the technology at their disposal."

Blackmar, former collections manager at the Museum of Anthropology and current grants manager at the Lied Center, worked with Jack Hofman, associate professor of anthropology, to contribute a chapter in the new book Kansas Archaeology, published by the University Press of Kansas.

Among the areas addressed in the duo's research was the ability of humans during the Paleoarchaic period to develop effective tools for hunting.

"They had to know which stones were the most durable for the projectile points–or arrowheads; they had to know where to locate those rocks; and they had to know how to use the natural resources available to them to bind the arrowheads to wooden shafts," Blackmar said.

Blackmar and Hofman are among the book's 20 contributors. The other KU contributors are Mary J. Adair, assistant professor and interim director of the Anthropology Museum, who wrote about paleoethnobotany of the region; Rolfe D. Mandel, associate professor of anthropology and associate scientist at the Kansas Geological Survey, who wrote on the evolution of the prehistoric landscape; and Alfred E. Johnson, professor emeritus of anthropology, who wrote the book's foreword.

The book presents the first comprehensive overview of Kansas archaeology in nearly 50 years, containing the most current descriptions and interpretations of the state's archaeological record.

Building on Waldo Wedel's classic Introduction to Kansas Archaeology, it synthesizes more than four decades of research and discusses all major prehistoric time periods in one readily accessible resource.

The contributors, all experts in their fields, synthesize what is known about the human presence in Kansas from the age of the mammoth hunters, circa 10,000 B.C., to Euro-American contact in the mid-19th century. Covering such sites as Kanorado – one of the oldest in the Americas – the authors review prehistoric peoples of the Paleoarchaic era, Woodland cultures, Central Plains tradition, High Plains Upper Republican culture, Late Prehistoric Oneota and Great Bend peoples. They also present material on three historic cultures: Wichita, Kansa and Pawnee.

The findings shed new light on issues such as how people adapted to environmental shifts and the impact of technological innovation on social behavior. Also included are chapters on specialized topics such as plant use in prehistory, sources of stone for tool manufacture and the effects of landscape evolution on sites.