Missouri State University

Big Eddy 1998

The 1997 Excavations at the Big Eddy Site (23CE426) in Southwest Missouri

Special Publication No. 2

Center for Archaeological Research

edited by
Neal H. Lopinot, Jack H. Ray, and Michael D. Conner

With Contributions by
Edwin R. Hajic
Neal H. Lopinot
Rolfe D. Mandel
Jack H. Ray
Bonnie W. Styles


Extensive archaeological and geoarchaeological investigations were conducted in 1997 at the Big Eddy site (23CE426) in central Cedar County, southwest Missouri. This work was undertaken for the Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, by the Center for Archaeological Research, Missouri State University under the auspices of Burns and McDonnell, Inc. and in accord with Contract No. DACW41-95-D-0016. The investigations at Big Eddy resulted in the delineation of Mississippian, Woodland, Archaic, Paleoindian, and possible pre-Clovis components in stratified alluvial contexts.

The excavations focused on mitigation of late- prehistoric deposits near the surface of the site, and on the examination of earlier prehistoric cultural deposits in deeply buried and previously undefined late Pleistocene to late Holocene alluvium. Two major geomorphic alluvial members were defined at the site—the Rodgers Shelter and Pippins Cemetery members. At the Big Eddy site, the Rodgers Shelter member is composed of at least three distinct alluvial fills, tentatively identified as early, middle, and late submembers. Relatively thick units of early to middle Holocene and late Holocene alluvium, corresponding generally to the middle and late submembers, occur in the western part of the site. Near the center of the site, all three submembers occur in a single stacked profile that dates from late Pleistocene through late Holocene times. The character of buried deposits in the eastern part of the site remain unknown, although coring indicates that all three submembers are also represented in this area.

Late Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian artifacts and deposits were found in the late submember, and at least some early Late Archaic artifacts also were found in the upper part of the middle submember. Within the late submember, late-prehistoric features and a rich middle Late Archaic midden were identified, and numerous diagnostic artifacts were collected. The excavations showed that the late submember is extremely thick and well stratified in the western part of the Big Eddy site, with artifact-bearing deposits extending from the surface to a depth of at least 2.6 m and possibly much deeper.

One corner of an approximately 30-cm-thick midden dating to middle Late Archaic times was found buried within the thick late submember in the western part of the site. This deposit is potentially quite extensive and contains abundant plant and animal remains (though mostly calcined), as well as numerous diagnostic chipped-stone tools, debitage, and other lithic debris (e.g., hematite and ground-stone tools). Preliminary evidence for relatively early cultivation of at least chenopod has been obtained, although more detailed study is needed. Cultural features, perhaps including structural remains, should occur in the vicinity of this midden.

The middle submember was the least investigated alluvial unit at the site. Nevertheless, it has considerable potential for delineating discrete components dating to the Middle and Early Archaic periods. Middle Archaic activities at the site appear to have been limited, at least within those parts of the site tested. Early Archaic activities, however, appear to have been fairly extensive, and the deposits dating to this period are relatively thick, offering the potential for identifying early and late Early Archaic components, related cultural activities, and changing paleoecological conditions.

The early submember of the Rodgers Shelter member is about 2.2 m thick in the central part of the site, and it was the primary focus of attention in 1997. It contains stratified multiple Paleoindian components underlain by pre-Clovis-age deposits. These findings alone are unprecedented for a site in midcontinental North America. A relatively large suite of radiocarbon ages from the early submember indicates that this alluvium aggraded during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, or about 13,000 to 10,000 B.P.

A relatively discrete, anthropogenically enriched 3Ab horizon lies at a depth of about 2.9–3.2 m below surface (bs). Radiocarbon dates from this horizon indicate deposition between about 10,500 and 10,000 B.P. In situ Dalton, San Patrice, and Wilson points were recovered from within the 3Ab horizon. Block excavations revealed an abundance of debitage resulting from relatively intensive use of this part of the site as a tool-manufacturing workshop associated with at least the Dalton and San Patrice components. Sixteen discrete debitage features and several manuported gravel piles were defined within these deposits. The recovery of scrapers, drills, adzes, and other Late Paleoindian tools indicate that domestic activities were conducted at the site in addition to intensive tool manufacturing.

Earlier Paleoindian tools and debitage were recovered from below the base of the 3Ab horizon in an underlying 3Bt1 horizon. The oldest diagnostic artifact consisted of two refitted fluted-point fragments, tentatively identified as parts of a Gainey point, that were found at about 3.3 m bs. The nearest associated AMS age is around 10,700 ± 200 B.P., although six of the eight AMS ages from this horizon form a time range of 10,700–11,400 B.P. These radiocarbon ages indicate the presence of cultural materials dating to both Middle Paleoindian and Early Paleoindian times, as these time spans are currently defined. The depositional integrity of artifacts within these deposits also is good, given the data obtained from geoarchaeological research.

Artifacts were found to about 3.9 m bs. However, deposits below about 3.5 m bs were the subject of very limited investigation, so our knowledge of artifacts and site-formation processes below this depth remain limited. As such, the presence of pre-Clovis-age cultural deposits at the Big Eddy site is inconclusive. In any regard, pre-Clovis-age deposits (based on currently accepted dates associated with Clovis fluted points) are present and what appear to have been in situ artifacts (debitage and manuports) were recovered from deposits that date to approximately 11,900 B.P. Below is a gravel bed and another meter or so of essentially unexamined deposits dating to about 13,000 B.P. and earlier. Charcoal fragments occur in the uppermost part of these deep deposits, but it is uncertain if these materials are cultural or natural (i.e., due to natural fires).

The Big Eddy investigations have resulted in several radiocarbon “firsts” and provide a generally reliable sequence based on a relatively large number of AMS, standard, and soil-humate age determinations. Because of the site’s good depositional integrity, the Big Eddy site has great potential for characterizing artifact assemblages and for understanding various aspects of changing settlement-subsistence strategies, lithic-procurement practices, and paleoecological conditions for Early, Middle, and Late Paleoindian times. The potential information that could be obtained for both later and possibly earlier times is also great.

Relatively reliable dates from the Big Eddy site are associated with Williams, Smith, Etley, San Patrice, Dalton, and Gainey bifaces. Numerous other diagnostic point types represented in private collections from the site have yet to be found in stratigraphic context. The pulses of sediment aggradation make Big Eddy ideal for defining the relative stratigraphic position of such diagnostic bifaces, and the presence of scattered bits of charcoal throughout these deposits demonstrates the potential for obtaining a reliable biface chronology for this portion of the midcontinent.

Extensive archaeological, geoarchaeological, and paleoecological investigations should be undertaken at the Big Eddy site in the very near future. Such investigations need to be implemented in the next two to three years, or else major portions of the remaining deposits may be lost forever. Basic elements of a program of mitigation are presented in this report. This program focuses on the mitigation of the Early Archaic through pre-Clovis-age deposits but not to the exclusion of later deposits. An interdisciplinary approach is emphasized.