Caribbean Archaeopedology

Sylvia Scudder, retired collection manager, conducted extensive archaeopedological research in the Caribbean area. Here are a few of her past projects:

Evidence of Sea Level Rise at the Turks and Caicos Islands

Scudder, S. J. (2001) Evidence of sea level rise at the Early Ostionan Coralie site (GT-3), ca. AD 700, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands. Journal of Archaeological Science 28(11):1221-1233.

Abstract: Soil and sediment analyses were conducted on samples from the early Ostionan Coralie Site (c. 705± 60) on Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands, the earliest dated settlement site in the Bahama Islands. The focus of these analyses was a sand layer mantling archaeological features discovered on a buried land surface. The tapering, wedge-shaped configuration of the sand body prompted the hypothesis that it was deposited by water-either a storm surge or a more gradual rise in sea level. This hypothesis was tested using soil morphological descriptions, particle-size distribution analysis and grain characteristics, contents of organic carbon and total phosphorus, and identification of invertebrate organisms found in the soil samples. A fining upward trend in particle size, round and rolled grain shapes, and a rich shallow-water micro-invertebrate infauna indicated a gradual marine transgression over the site, as opposed to either a catastrophic storm event or aeolian deposition. These results explain the incremental inland shift of settlement activity over time at Coralie.

Identifying Anthropogenic Soils from pre-Columbian Puerto Rico

Scudder, S. J. (2001) Soil resources and anthropogenic changes at the Tibes Site, Ponce, Puerto Rico. Caribbean Journal of Science 37(1-2):30-40.

Abstract: Soil and landscape analyses were conducted at the pre-Columbian civic-ceremonial center of Tibes in south-central Puerto Rico, near the city of Ponce, to characterize intrasite activity areas and to evaluate soil resources available to the original horticulturists who settled there. Comparisons were made of chemical signatures of activity areas and off-site soils, including relative concentrations of soil elements that characteristically accumulate as a result of human activities. In particular, total phosphorus contents were determined for anthropogenic and non-human-influenced soils and presented as marker values for this and similar sites in the region. Also examined was the relationship between site selection and landscape attributes, including characterization of local soil types in terms of fertility and physical structure, the effects of alluvial processes on the site, and intra-site variation in soil characteristics. Soils changed from west to east across the site: those closest to the western margin and the Río Portugués contained more silt and fewer rocks than the pebbly, clayey soils of the hillside footslopes to the east. The overall characteristics of the site soils suggested a stable climate throughout the period of site occupation. Clear differences existed in phosphorus content of soils from cultural features, non-feature site areas, and off-site localities, providing a general means of chemically identifying these three types of soils at similar sites.

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