Collection Description

Tradition Name

Early Desert Archaic

Tradition Description

The Early Desert Archaic tradition extends from 10,000–8000 BP in the eastern Great Basin and the southwestern United States (Arizona, New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, and southeastern Utah). The people were nomadic hunters and gatherers traveling in small groups to exploit seasonally available animals and plants, including small seeds as seen by the presence of flat milling stones and hand stones. Camp sites are represented by fire hearths, lithics, and the occasionally preserved faunal remains. Cave sites were sometimes used for shelter and provide evidence of an extensive perishable artifact assemblage.


Select the Tradition Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


North America --Southwest and Basin


United States

OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF Archaeology collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The Early Desert Archaic collection discusses the Archaic tradition in the eastern Great Basin and the Southwest of the United States. This includes Arizona, New Mexico, southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. The tradition occurred from 10,000 – 8,000 BP.

Readers will find there is some overlap in time periods and material culture between the various Paleoindian and Middle Archaic traditions. This is especially true within documents as many authors discuss sites that were occupied from the Late Paleoindian period up to the Historic period. Although each collection is marked for OCM (Outline of Cultural Materials) codes that pertain only to its own time period and location, readers are encouraged to examine the documents in the other collections for additional information. In particular the reader is directed to the following archaeological traditions: Late Paleoindian (N037) and Middle to Late Desert Archaic (NT55).

Two documents provide overviews for this tradition. Beck and Jones (1997, no. 14) discuss the Great Basin area and Huckell (1996, no. 21) covers the Southwest. Both documents cover more than the early Archaic. Beck and Jones (1997, no. 14) focus on the lithic technologies from the terminal Pleistocene to early Holocene and refer to this time period as the Paleoarchaic. Huckell (1996, no. 21) summarizes the archaeological evidence from the Early to the Late Archaic. Some of his overview also includes the eastern Great Basin in addition to those complexes further south.

There are two famous cave sites in Utah: Danger Cave and Hogup Cave. C. Melvin Aikens (1970, no. 1) excavated at Hogup Cave in the 1960s. The cave had excellent preservation as is seen in Aikens (1970, no. 1) excavation report and the reports that are described below. Basketry was described by James M. Adovasio (1970, no. 2). Gardiner F. Dalley (1970, no. 3) describes the wood or reed artifacts, such as atlatls, foreshafts, and snares. K. T. Harper and G. M. Alder (1970, no. 4) and Stephen D. Durrant (1970, no. 5) used the plant remains and some of the animal remains to examine the past climate in the northern Great Basin. Gary F. Fry (1970, no. 6) conducted a preliminary analysis of 27 probable human coprolites. Gerald Kelso (1970, no. 7) analyzed the pollen in the coprolites and from three profiles. Paul W. Parmalee (1970, no. 8) and Donald Baldwin (1970, no. 9) identified the bird species found at Hogup Cave. William G. Haag (1970, no. 11) looked for domestic dog, but only one specimen was positively identified as such. Kent C. Condie and Alan B. Blaxland (1970, no. 12) tried to identify the obsidian sources used by the occupants at Hogup and Danger Caves. Two additional artifacts of unknown provenience are described by Gardiner F. Dalley and Kenneth Lee Petersen (1970, no. 13). And lastly, Hugh C. Cutler (1970, no. 10) analyzed the maize remains from Hogup Cave. This source is outside the time period for the Early Desert Archaic, but was included in order to present the entire document.

Danger Cave was excavated by Jesse D. Jennings (1957, no. 22) along with Juke Box and Raven Caves. Danger Cave had the deepest and best preserved deposit. It contained many rarely seen objects made from wood, grass, and hide. The basketry was analyzed by Sara Sue Rudy (1957, no. 23). Coprolites from Danger and Juke Box Caves were studied by Charles C. Sperry (1957, no. 25) and Robert L. Fonner (1957, no. 26 and no. 27). The bird feathers were identified by Charles C. Sperry (1957, no. 28) and Carma Lee Smithson (1957, no. 31) analyzed the string, worked wood, and quids to determine what plant species were represented. Charles B. Hunt and Roger B. Morrison (1957, no. 24) discuss the geology of Danger and Juke Box Caves. Two documents were outside the Early Desert Archaic tradition (Skinner 1957, no. 29 and Jennings 1957, no.30), but have been included in order to present the Danger cave material in its entirety.

Emil W. Haury (1950, no. 15) excavated at Ventana Cave in southwestern Arizona. He writes of his archaeological findings and of the geology, climate, and dating techniques. The cave was occupied from before 10,700 BP to 58 BP (greater than 8700 BC to AD 1942) and the volcanic debris and red sand layers are the two strata that date to within the Early Desert Archaic. As this cave was excavated before the invention of Carbon-14, Kirk Bryan (1950, no. 16) uses the geology of the area to arrive at possible dates for the strata. Edwin H. Colbert (1950, no. 17) analyzed the fossil vertebrate mammal bones to examine climate, especially in the lower levels. T. F. Buehrer (1950, no. 20) conducted chemical analyses to understand more about the post-depositional processes in the cave. Clara Lee Tanner (1950, no. 18) describes the textiles and Norman E. Gabel (1950, no. 19) analyzed the skeletal material. Both of these documents report findings from the midden levels so they are outside the time period for the Early Desert Archaic.

The last set of documents discusses the Cochise cultural sequence in southeast Arizona. E. B. Sayles (1983, no. 32) contains the references to documents nos. 33 – 45. Background material is provided by Raymond H. Thompson (1983, no. 33) who describes how the Cochise culture sequence was developed and by William W. Wasley (1983, no. 34) who describes the natural environment. The paleo-ecology is described by Terah L. Smiley (1983, no. 35) and the paleo-climate and the geological processes discussed by Ernst Antevs (1983, no. 36). A list of radiocarbon dates from various sites can be found in William W. Wasley and E. B. Sayles (1983, no. 37). The Cochise cultural sequence consists of the Sulphur Spring, Cazador, Chiricahua, and San Pedro stages. Sayles (1983, no. 38) reconstructs this sequence from a lithic analysis of artifacts from more than 100 sites. The four stages are described individually in documents nos. 39-42 (Sayles 1983). The early pottery horizon is discussed in Sayles (1983, no. 43). This document is outside the time range for the Early Desert Archaic. Sayles (1983, no. 44) correlates the archaeological, geological, and palynological data with the different stages of the Cochise culture. Concluding remarks are made by Emil W. Haury (1983, no. 45.

For further information on individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Sarah Berry

Butchering – Use HUNTING AND TRAPPING (224)

Coprolites –possible human coprolites or feces– Use ELIMINATION (514)

Curated tools – Use LITHIC INDUSTRIES (324)

Group aggregation – Use VISITING AND HOSPITALITY (574)

Insolation –Insolation is the amount of solar radiation reaching the surface of the earth. The amount depends on the tilt of the Earth’s axis of rotation, the precession of the rotation axis, and the eccentricity or elliptical shape of the Earth’s orbit around the sun. It will also depend on the latitude, time of year, time of day, and the orientation of the land surface with respect to the sun. These parameters affect the climate as insolation increases or decreases.– –Definition from Use CLIMATE (132)

Lithic procurement –when discussing how far lithic raw materials are found from their source– Use TRAVEL (484)

Lithic raw material transportation – Use TRAVEL (484)

Quids "Quids result from the mastication of the rhizomes and tender leaves of Scirpus Americanus , the desert bulrush. The quids as found are no more that pads of matted fibers, expelled from the mouth after the juices and soft connective tissues have been extracted by chewing. In most cases the chewing had continued until the fibers were completely separated and the quid, when spate out, was nothing but a tangle of discrete fibers – a flattish wad perhaps 1 ¼ or more inches long, by ½ inch wide and ¼ inch thick." –pages 224 and 226 Jennings 1957 Use EATING (264) FLORA (137)

Regionalization or regional subtraditions –when a specific subtradition is not named– Use CULTURAL PARTICIPATION (184)

Indexing Notes by

Sarah Berry

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