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The Great Basin

A Natural Prehistory

Donald Grayson

Publication Year: 2011

Covering a large swath of the American West, the Great Basin, centered in Nevada and including parts of California, Utah, and Oregon, is named for the unusual fact that none of its rivers or streams flow into the sea. This fascinating illustrated journey through deep time is the definitive environmental and human history of this beautiful and little traveled region, home to Death Valley, the Great Salt Lake, Lake Tahoe, and the Bonneville Salt Flats. Donald K. Grayson synthesizes what we now know about the past 25,000 years in the Great Basin—its climate, lakes, glaciers, plants, animals, and peoples—based on information gleaned from the region’s exquisite natural archives in such repositories as lake cores, packrat middens, tree rings, and archaeological sites. A perfect guide for students, scholars, travelers, and general readers alike, the book weaves together history, archaeology, botany, geology, biogeography, and other disciplines into one compelling panorama across a truly unique American landscape.

Published by: University of California Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Most North Americans grow up knowing that parts of our continent were once covered by glaciers, that now-extinct mammoths and sabertooth cats walked the same ground on which we now walk our dogs, that people discovered North America long before Columbus stumbled across it. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

A list of the people who have taught me about the Great Basin may quite literally be found in the References section of this book. In addition, however, there are many people who discussed Great Basin issues with me, sometimes at great length, provided me with everything from references and manuscripts to reprints and maps, ...

Part One: The Great Basins

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Chapter 1: Discovering a Great Basin

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pp. 3-10

It was July 13, 1890, and the first Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States lay dying in a New York City boardinghouse, his son by his side, his celebrated wife, Jessie, in Los Angeles, a continent away. Seventy-seven years old, John C. Frémont had come to New York from Washington, ...

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Chapter 2: Modern Definitions of the Great Basin

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pp. 11-42

If scientists had just stuck with Frémont’s fully appropriate definition, the Great Basin would be a well-defined hydrographic unit, the name applying only to that huge area of the arid West that drains internally. That definition, in fact, remains the common one, though few people working in the Great Basin follow it slavishly. ...

Part Two: Some Ice Age Background

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Chapter 3: Glaciers, Sea Levels, and the Peopling of the Americas

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pp. 45-66

Archaeology deals with the entire time span of our existence, from our earliest tool-using ancestors in sub-Saharan Africa some 2.5 million years ago, to contemporary peoples from Tanzania to Tucson. Much archaeological research is fairly routine and, while important, causes little heated debate. ...

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Chapter 4: The End of the North American Pleistocene: Extinct Mammals and Early Peoples

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pp. 67-84

The end of the Pleistocene in North America was a time of remarkable change. Throughout much of this region, plant communities were reorganized as separate species of plants responded in their own individual ways to new climatic conditions. Huge glacial lakes that had formed in the Great Basin desiccated, ...

Part Three: The Late Ice Age Great Basin

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Chapter 5: The Late Pleistocene Physical Environment: Lakes and Glaciers

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pp. 87-134

The fastest anyone has ever officially gone on land is 763.035 miles per hour, a speed hit by Royal Air Force fighter pilot Andy Green in the jet-powered Thrust SSC II on October 15, 1997, on northwestern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. That accomplishment broke the record that he had set some three weeks earlier, 714.144 MPH, also on the Black Rock Desert. ...

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Chapter 6: Late Pleistocene Vegetation of the Great Basin

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pp. 135-172

William Lewis Manly and his traveling companions spent the Christmas of 1849 in Death Valley. Manly’s companions did not escape until mid-February, and then only because Manly and his friend John Rogers walked out, returning with supplies, directions, and hope. Not until March 7 did the whole group reach Rancho San Francisco, ...

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Chapter 7: Late Pleistocene Vertebrates of the Great Basin

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pp. 173-214

As discussed in chapter 4, the extinction of an amazingly diverse variety of North American mammals toward the end of the Pleistocene has provided paleontology, and archaeology, with one of its most hotly debated mysteries. The Great Basin, however, has been largely peripheral to this debate. ...

Part Four: The Last 10,000 Years

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Chapter 8: The Great Basin during the Holocene

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pp. 217-286

In 1975, geologist Dave Hopkins announced the decision by the Holocene Commission of the International Quaternary Association to place the Pleistocene-Holocene Boundary at 10,000 years ago. The 10,000-year figure, he said, was chosen “simply because that’s a nice round number.” ...

Part Five: Great Basin Archaeology

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Chapter 9: The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Great Basin

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pp. 289-338

The Clovis archaeological phenomenon provides the earliest widespread evidence we have for people in North America (chapter 4). Dating to between 11,200 and 10,800 years ago, Clovis is best known from the Plains and Southwest and is marked by very distinctive lanceolate, concave-based fluted projectile points (figure 4-3). ...

Part Six: Conclusions

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Chapter 10: The Great Basin Today and Tomorrow

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pp. 341-346

The Great Basin Today and Tomorrow It has become routine to end regional natural histories of the Americas with discussions of all the disastrous things that have happened since the arrival of Europeans, and of the dire consequences that will emerge if we do not change our ways. The warnings are warranted. ...

Appendix 1: Relationship Between Radiocarbon and Calendar Years for the Past 25,000 Radiocarbon Years

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pp. 347-350

Appendix 2: Concordance of Common and Scientific Plant Names

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pp. 351-354


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pp. 355-408


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pp. 409-418

E-ISBN-13: 9780520948716
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520267473

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 710975203
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Great Basin

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Subject Headings

  • Geology, Stratigraphic -- Pleistocene.
  • Geology, Stratigraphic -- Holocene.
  • Geology -- Great Basin.
  • Paleontology -- Great Basin.
  • Indians of North America -- Great Basin -- Antiquities.
  • Paleo-Indians -- Great Basin.
  • Great Basin -- Antiquities.
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