Missouri State University

Big Eddy 2000

The 1999 Excavations at the Big Eddy Site (23CE426) in Southwest Missouri

Special Publication No. 3

Center for Archaeological Research

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

With Contributions by
Stanley A. Ahler
E. Arthur Bettis III
Tom D. Dillehay
Edwin R. Hajic
Marvin Kay
Neal H. Lopinot
Rolfe D. Mandel
Gina S. Powell
Jack H. Ray
Kary L. Stackelbeck


A second season of intensive archaeological work was conducted in 1999 at the Big Eddy site (23CE426) in central Cedar County, southwest Missouri. This work was undertaken by the Center for Archaeological Research, Missouri State University, with support from the Kansas City District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Geographic Society, the Green Foundation, and the Tom and Shirley Townsend family.

The excavations focused on the lowermost Paleoindian and thick pre-Clovis-age deposits in a 16-sq. m area established in the center of Blocks B-C, after re-exhumation of the disturbed fill from the 1997 excavations. Hand excavations were undertaken in 5-cm levels within 0.5-x-0.5-m subquadrants of 1-x-1-m quadrants of 2-x-2-m units. All artifacts and charcoal encountered in situ were piece plotted, and the sediments from each of the 64 subquadrants were water screened or floated. The excavations were undertaken in this manner from 350 cm to 480 cm, the top of a paleo–gravel bar that underlies the main part of the Big Eddy site. New investigations were also undertaken in the eastern part of the site to determine the nature and content of Paleoindian activities in that area. Finally, excavations were undertaken along the south side of Blocks B-C in a 6-sq. m area. This work partly involved salvage of the remaining southern part of Feature 28, the largest and richest Late Paleoindian feature encountered in 1997. It also resulted in the identification of two new features. The excavations were undertaken from 250 cm, within the early Early Archaic deposits, down to 310 cm, to the lower part of the Late Paleoindian horizon.

At least two items were recovered from the pre-Clovis-age deposits that may have been modified by human activity. The best candidate is a large, broken sandstone boulder that perhaps served as an anvilstone. In addition, a large, oblong chert cobble may have been used as a hammerstone. The age and their relatively undisturbed geomorphological context indicate that they date to ca. 12,600–12,200 B.P. The agents responsible for fracturing and deposition, however, are controversial. Micro-use-wear analysis was undertaken on these specimens by three specialists, two of whom contend that the modifications are probably the result of natural agents. The other specialist has suggested the possibility of human modification of a few items, and there are some very compelling geomorphic and hydrologic reasons to believe that at least the possible broken anvilstone was transported and modified by humans. Other potential artifacts from pre-Clovis-age deposits appear to have been modified by natural agents or else represent intrusions from the overlying Paleoindian deposits. Based on the results of an experiment using zoo elephants, a large number of chert flakes and flaked chert pebbles and cobbles in the pre-Clovis-age deposits appear to be the result of trampling by large Ice Age mammals.

Additional geomorphic coring, radiocarbon dates, and stable carbon isotope analysis have added to our understanding of site stratigraphy and geochronology, the depositional environments at the time of occupation, and paleoenvironmental conditions. Excluding a small number of aberrant dates, the additional AMS ages establish the rapid accretion of about 1 m of bar-top sediments beginning around 12,800–12,600 B.P., followed by a marked decrease in sedimentation rates corresponding to the pre-Clovis-age levels containing the possible anvilstone and hammerstone. An even more marked decrease is evident for the overlying Early/Middle Paleoindian horizon. The new stable carbon isotope data suggest an early Holocene warm or dry interval that began sometime after 11,200 B.P. and ended between 10,400 and 10,100 B.P., corresponding to the reported “Folsom drought” in the Southern High Plains.

A considerable amount of other data also are presented here as the result of: (1) a refit analysis of Paleoindian materials recovered during the 1997 excavations, (2) excavations along the south side of Blocks B-C, (3) continued monitoring of the eroding cutbank, (4) an expanded investigation of exotic cherts represented by artifacts mainly from the Big Eddy site, and (5) examination of previously undocumented collections from Big Eddy and other sites in the lower Sac River valley.

The refit analysis clearly establishes that the Paleoindian horizons at Big Eddy have exceptional integrity. Additional exotic cherts have been linked to source areas to the northwest, southwest, south, and southeast. They appear at the site beginning at least by the Middle Paleoindian period and continue into Late Paleoindian and early Early Archaic times. It is now suspected that these connections may relate more to trade or indirect procurement than to direct procurement. A review of additional fluted points and preforms from Big Eddy and other sites in the lower Sac River valley supports the presence of the Gainey type and indicates this form is distinct from Clovis points and from the potentially contemporaneous Sedgwick type. Based on stratigraphic context and technology, Gainey may also represent a direct precursor of Dalton. The variety of projectile points from Big Eddy, particularly fluted and unfluted lanceolate points, have increased our awareness of the prehistoric importance and archaeological significance of the earliest deposits at the site. It is a site with vast research potential, but one that is also being rapidly destroyed by cutbank erosion.