Breathing New Life into Old Records: Analysis of the Muhlbach and Stelzer sites on the Northern Plains

  • Author / Creator
    Graham, Reid J.
  • In the early to mid-1960s, two important excavations of major Besant archaeological sites were carried out on the northern Plains. In Alberta, Ruth Gruhn uncovered the Muhlbach site beneath a farmer’s yard, revealing a large bison kill site with a lithic assemblage dominated by Knife River Flint projectile points, a material that could only be found in North Dakota. Concurrently, Robert Neuman was completing his excavations of the Stelzer site in South Dakota, an enormous encampment with copious amounts of Knife River Flint, surrounded by contemporary burial mound complexes; he would ultimately use this material to define the Sonota Complex, a regional variant within the Besant phase. These two sites would form a foundation in the archaeological literature, and continue to shape the discussion surrounding the relationship between Besant, Sonota, and the Hopewellian Interaction Sphere. Since the initial publications and preliminary reports for these sites, little attention has been dedicated to the original source material. Given the importance these two sites have in the Besant/Sonota discussion, it is imperative that we return to further explore these assemblages in order to illuminate broad-scale interactions occurring on the northern Plains. Advances in radiocarbon dating allow us to firmly fix the temporal duration of these sites, to help explore questions regarding length of occupation, and relations to other dated archaeological assemblages. Developments with spatial analytical methods and technologies also provide further inferences about the Muhlbach and Stelzer occupations. High frequency Knife River Flint sites on the northwestern Plains are rare, despite their prominence in the literature. Their very uniqueness warrants careful exploration to assess their significance with respect to a broader Hopewell Interaction Sphere. In these terms, I will explore Muhlbach as reflecting a prestige-based acquisition pattern involving both bison products and Knife River Flint, and suggest that Muhlbach may have been linked to the Sonota burial mounds as part of a broader regional interaction focused upon ceremonial life, and mortuary ritual in particular.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Anthropology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Ives, John W. (Anthropology)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Gruhn, Ruth (Anthropology)
    • Supernant, Kisha (Anthropology)
    • Losey, Robert (Anthropology)