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  • Montana before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Great Plains by Douglas H. MacDonald
  • Mary Lou Larson
Montana before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Great Plains. By Douglas H. MacDonald. Missoula mt: Mountain Press Publishing Co., 2012. vii + 194 pp. Tables, photographs, maps, illustrations, appendix, references, index. $20.00 paper.

Montana has always needed coverage of its prehistory, and Douglas MacDonald has provided an introduction in his volume, although 60 of the 114 sites discussed are outside the state. The volume is written for students and the general public. Drawings by Erik Carlson are well done and include good likenesses of various archaeologists (George C. Frison, William Mulloy).

MacDonald uses Frison’s chronological scheme (Paleoindian, Archaic, Late Prehistoric) rather than that preferred by many Montana and Canadian archaeologists (Early, Middle, and Late Prehistoric). This perspective enables easy comparison with the many northwestern Plains sites included in this volume, but a comparison of the two major chronologies used by Montana archaeologists would have been useful since so many Montana archaeologists use a chronology begun by Mulloy but perfected by B.O.K. Reeves and others.

MacDonald relies on well- known reference books (e.g., Frison’s Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains, 1991), contract reports, and other sources to describe sites. The volume opens with an introduction to the history of archaeological research in Montana, the Montana environment, animal hunting, stone and stone tools, and rock art. Five chapters on prehistory (Paleoindian, Early, Middle, Late Archaic, and Late Prehistoric) follow, while a concluding chapter offers questions for future archaeologists. The prehistory chapters present “key” sites for each time period and summaries of the original work there. Many of these sites are found in the Great Plains.

Unfortunately, the volume suffers from a number of difficulties stemming from a lack of understanding of the scholarship on the region’s prehistory. MacDonald misses the mark on the Altithermal, ignoring variation in climate between mountains and Plains and through time. While he argues that bison were “at the core of the Montana hunter- gatherer diet for 11,000 years,” many scholars would have a much more nuanced perspective. Questionable identifications on several projectile point types are disconcerting. Among others, for example, a Foothill/Mountain Late Paleoindian point is identified as Middle Archaic (77), and a stemmed point is identified as a Cody Knife (53). Finally, the volume has some serious editorial oversights: figures are unnumbered; many projectile point photographs lack scales; sites are plotted in the wrong location on several maps (e.g., Casper, Hell Gap, Agate Basin, Dead Indian Creek); measurements are given as metric in some figures, English units in others. The virtual absence of cited references in the text (including some direct quotes) with no link to a reference section is frustrating.

MacDonald writes that “while this book won’t exhaust you with details, I hope it will prepare you to dig deeper into the early human history of Montana.” In this the book succeeds, providing that taste of Montana archaeology one can hope will lead others (and Mac-Donald) to continue their research into what has only begun to be examined here. [End Page 106]

Mary Lou Larson
Department of Anthropology
University of Wyoming


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