McDonald County Sheltered Sites

Archaeological Investigations at Six Sheltered Sites in
 McDonald County, Missouri

Special Publication No. 5 (2006)
Center for Archaeological Research

Edited by
Jack H. Ray and Michael D. Conner

With Contributions by
M. Chris Barnhart
Michael D. Conner
Lucretia S. Kelly
Neal H. Lopinot
Ron Oesch
Gina S. Powell
Jack H. Ray

Phase II and Phase III excavations were conducted at multiple sheltered sites within proposed expansion corridors of U.S. 71 in southern McDonald County, Missouri. Three rockshelters (23MD148, 23MD158, and 23MD159) and one cave (23MD147) were to be impacted by expansion of U.S. 71 into a dual divided highway, and two rockshelters (23MD146 and 23MD160) were to be affected by the expansion of an interchange at the junction of U.S. 71 and Missouri 90. The archaeological investigations were undertaken by the Center for Archaeological Research at Missouri State University under contract with the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Southern McDonald County is the most highly dissected and most rugged portion of the county. It encompasses most of the headwaters of the Elk River and its two principal tributaries, Big Sugar Creek and Little Sugar Creek. Each of the sheltered sites in the project area was formed by differential erosion along the contact between the massive limestone of the Pierson Formation and the less resistant, underlying shale and siltstone deposits of the Northview Formation. All six sheltered sites exhibited favorable south or southwest aspects. The uplands in the project area contained plentiful and varied plant and animal resources as well as abundant lithic raw material.

Phase II investigations determined that sheltered sites 23MD158, 23MD159, and 23MD160 were not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because of shallow deposits, sparse artifact densities, and an absence of faunal remains and cultural features. Test excavations at Southview Shelter (23MD146), Henson Cave (23MD147), and Henson Shelter (23MD148), however, indicated that each contained significant cultural deposits. Henson Cave and Henson Shelter contained relatively thick (50–65 cm) undisturbed midden deposits with well-preserved plant and animal remains, cultural features, and numerous diagnostic artifacts from multiple components. Southview Shelter lacked the midden deposits and the artifact densities of the other two shelters, but it contained much deeper deposits with multiple Archaic, Woodland, and late prehistoric components.

Phase III work investigated large portions of 23MD146, 23MD147, and 23MD148. After hand excavations were completed, the midden deposits at Henson Cave and Henson Shelter were stripped via backhoe in search of features and potential human remains.

Southview Shelter was the least occupied of the three sites. Overlooking a deep gap in the uplands, it appears to have been a temporary field camp or overnight bivouac that was used only occasionally over a span of at least 8,000 years. It also served as a burial site at least once during late prehistoric times. This shelter contained an unusual solution cavity more than 2 m deep at the west end that gradually filled with natural and cultural debris. Deposits outside the solution cavity were approximately 1 m in thickness and appeared less disturbed than those in the solution cavity. Road construction was redesigned to preserve the remaining deposits at this site.

Henson Cave was occupied multiple times over a span of at least 6,000 years. Use of the cave during the first 5,500 years, however, appears to have been occasional and of relatively short duration. The primary occupations of Henson Cave, which appear to have been responsible for the formation of the entire midden deposit, occurred during Terminal Prehistoric times and are associated with a Neosho phase component. Radiocarbon ages indicate site usage during the time span of ca. A.D. 1300–1550. Diagnostic and other artifacts found at the cave that are typically associated with Neosho components in the southwestern Ozarks include triangular Fresno arrowpoints, shell-tempered Woodward Plain ceramics from flat-bottomed jars and bowls, shell-tempered Neosho Punctate pottery, Harahey knives, end scrapers, sandstone arrow-shaft smoothers, bone rasps, and mussel-shell scrapers. Although some year-round occupation cannot be ruled out, the cave appears to have been utilized primarily as a seasonal base camp during Terminal Prehistoric times. Upland plant and animal resources (especially hickory nuts, acorns, and deer) and a high-quality chert resource (Reeds Spring chert) appear to have been targeted. Age diagnostic deer bones and nut collecting indicate primarily fall and winter occupations.

Henson Shelter was occupied intermittently over a span of at least 7,000 years. Occupation during the first 6,000 years also appears to have been relatively infrequent and short lived. The most intensive use of the rockshelter occurred during late prehistoric times. One disturbed semi-flexed primary burial (probably late prehistoric in age) was discovered at Henson Shelter. Late Woodland and Caddoan Mississippian components are represented by diagnostic artifacts, multiple features, and multiple radiocarbon ages. Occupation of Henson Shelter appears to have been preferred over nearby Henson Cave during Late Woodland and Caddoan Mississippian times. The opposite appears to have been the rule during the following Terminal Prehistoric period, although Henson Shelter continued to be used on a regular basis by Neosho people. Food remains and seasonality indicators at Henson Shelter are similar to those at Henson Cave. It is likely that both Henson Cave and Henson Shelter served as cold-weather camps for relatively small groups temporarily segmented from larger sociopolitical units as part of an annual adaptive settlement-subsistence strategy. Both sheltered sites were destroyed by road construction after the archaeological investigations were completed.