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Medicine Creek

Seventy Years of Archaeological Investigations

Edited by Donna C. Roper, with contributions from Linda Scott Cummings, W. D. Fr

Publication Year: 2002

This valuable book is an excellent overview of long-term archaeological investigations in the valley that remains at the forefront of studies on the First Americans.


In southwest Nebraska, a stretch of Medicine Creek approximately 20 kilometers long holds a remarkable concentration of both late Paleoindian and late prehistoric sites. Unlike several nearby similar and parallel streams that drain the divide between the Platte and Republican Rivers, Medicine Creek has undergone 70 years of archaeological excavations that reveal a long occupation by North America's earliest inhabitants.


Donna Roper has collected the written research in this volume that originated in a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1947 River Basin Survey. In addition to 12 chapters reviewing the long history of archaeological investigations at Medicine Creek, the volume contains recent analyses of and new perspectives on old sites and old data. Two of the sites discussed are considered for pre-Clovis status because they show evidence of human modification of mammoth faunal remains in the late Pleistocene Age. Studies of later occupation of Upper Republican phase sites yield information on the lifeways of Plains village people.


Presented by major investigators at Medicine Creek, the contributions are a balanced blend of the historical research and the current state-of-the-art work and analysis. Roper's comprehensive look at the archaeology, paleontology, and geomorphology at Medicine Creek gives scientists and amateurs a full assessment of a site that has taught us much about the North American continent and its early people.



Published by: The University of Alabama Press

List of Figures

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pp. ix

List of Tables

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

The idea of having a celebration of archaeological research at Medicine Creek Reservoir came up in the fall of 1996 while the University of Nebraska State Museum and the Bureau of Reclamation were pursuing cooperative fieldwork at the La Sena mammoth site. We realized that 1997 would mark 50 years since the start of federally sponsored...

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pp. xvii-xix

The Medicine Creek valley of southwest Nebraska is one of the legendary localities of Central Plains archaeology. It holds unusual concentrations of both Late Paleoindian and late prehistoric Upper Republican phase sites, and it has a long and distinguished history of archaeological investigation, now entering the eighth decade. The valley...

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1. The Medicine Creek Valley: Environment and Prehistory

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pp. 1-8

Viewed on maps or from the air, Medicine Creek seems just one of a multitude of parallel streams draining the Platte and Republican rivers divide and flowing to the Republican River in southern Nebraska. Of course, topographically and hydrologically this is true, but to several generations of archaeologists the valley of Medicine Creek is not at all...

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2. Discovery at Medicine Creek

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pp. 9-15

The long search for ancient cultural remains in Nebraska reached a dramatic peak in 1947 with the discovery of three sites containing evidence of human habitations deeply buried in alluvial terraces bordering Medicine and Lime Creeks. A brief review of the history of this search follows the work of Holen (1995b) and Schultz (1983) and will...

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3. The Lime Creek Sites: How Long Ago Did People First Live in the Medicine Creek Valley?

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pp. 16-19

The discovery of the Lime Creek sites in the Medicine Creek valley is an example of the often-dramatic character of the search for the earliest local people in many parts of the world. In the mid-twentieth century in the Medicine Creek valley, the University of Nebraska State Museum shared in that search and got a taste of the drama. But the...

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4. The La Sena and Shaffert Mammoth Sites: History of Investigations, 1987–1998

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pp. 20-36

Two mammoth sites in the Medicine Creek valley, La Sena and Shaffert, contain highly fragmented limb bones in well-dated late Wisconsinan loess (Figure 4.1). This chapter introduces the reader to the sites and the history of investigations. It also summarizes the geological contexts, radiocarbon ages, and preliminary interpretations of the two...

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5. Stratigraphic Studies at Paleoindian Sites Around Medicine Creek Reservoir

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pp. 37-53

Geoarchaeological investigations of Paleoindian sites in the Medicine Creek valley of southwestern Nebraska began in the late 1940s with the work of paleontologist C. Bertrand Schultz and his students (e.g., Schultz et al. 1948) and were renewed in the late 1980s and 1990s by geomorphologist David May (e.g., Holen and May 1989). Although...

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6. The Paleoindian Occupation of the Medicine Creek Drainage, Southwestern Nebraska

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pp. 54-83

The three Medicine Creek Paleoindian sites (Allen, Lime Creek, and Red Smoke; Figure 1.1 or 5.1) occupy an uncomfortable niche in Plains archaeology. When these sites were discovered in 1947, Paleoindian archaeology was in its infancy: chronological issues were unresolved, culture-historical sequences were poorly understood, and little could...

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7. Medicine Creek Is a Paleoindian Cultural Ecotone: The Red Smoke Assemblage

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pp. 84-141

The southwestern Nebraska Paleoindian Red Smoke site (25FT42) is in the upper reaches of a gallery-forested river that flows east to the Mississippi, in a sheltered, well-watered niche abundant in deer, small game, vegetable foods, and local high-quality knappable tabular stone (Smoky Hill jasper). It is a westward penetration into the High...

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8. “ . . . it’s turtles all the way down”: Prefederal Upper Republican Site Archaeology at Medicine Creek

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pp. 142-155

The story is told of the anthropologist, studying origin traditions, whose informant stated that the world stands on the back of a giant turtle. He asked what the turtle stood on and learned that it stands on the back of another turtle. He then asked what that turtle stands on, to which the informant replied, “Ah, don’t you see—it’s turtles all...

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9. Nebraska State Historical Society and River Basin Surveys Research at Medicine Creek Lake, 1946–1948

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pp. 156-162

Medicine Creek Reservoir was completed in 1949. It was built primarily to control destructive flooding, both on Medicine Creek and in the Republican River drainage, and also as part of the Frenchman- Cambridge Irrigation Project, administered by the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). Although there were important archaeological...

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10. What Do You Mean Upper Republican?

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pp. 163-178

In this chapter I trace the changing definitions of the archaeological unit called Upper Republican and raise the issue of whether it has outlived its usefulness. The taxa that archaeologists create are supposed by some to be the remains of individual prehistoric societies or tribes and even to be identifiable with surviving language communities...

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11. Post–River Basin Surveys Investigations at Upper Republican Sites in the Medicine Creek Valley

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pp. 179-196

The 1947 and, especially, the 1948 field seasons of the River Basin Surveys (RBS) and Nebraska State Historical Society (NSHS) were certainly the heyday of Upper Republican site excavation in the Medicine Creek valley and, for that matter, of Upper Republican site excavation anywhere. My tally, drawn from the final report of the...

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12. A Model for Upper Republican Subsistence and Nutrition in the Medicine Creek Locality: A New Look at Extant Data

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pp. 197-211

Studies that have analyzed the subsistence remains from Upper Republican sites in the Medicine Creek locality generally have asserted that late prehistoric groups in the region practiced a modified hunting and gathering lifestyle with an associated attendance to maize horticulture (Bozell 1991; Cummings and Rylander 1988; Cutler...

References Cited

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pp. 213-242

List of Contributors

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pp. 243-244


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pp. 245-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780817384258
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817311476

Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2002

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Subject Headings

  • Paleo-Indians -- Nebraska -- Medicine Creek Valley.
  • Indians of North America -- Nebraska -- Medicine Creek Valley -- Antiquities.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- Nebraska -- Medicine Creek Valley.
  • Medicine Creek Valley (Neb.) -- Antiquities.
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