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Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history
(1998)

1. Prehistoric and historic Native American occupation,   pp. 1-42


Page 3

As demonstrated in Table 1, prehistoric American Indians were active in the Janesville area.
At certain points in time, however, there appears to have been more activity. The largest
group of prehistoric sites can be classified as "unknown prehistoric." These include single and
multiple burials, workshops, and camp or village sites. The large number of sites lumped into
the unknown prehistoric camp/village category is due to the lack of temporally diagnostic
artifacts at the sites. The definition of these sites as camps or villages suggests both
permanent or semi-permanent occupations and occupations of shorter duration. Compared to
other site types (excluding camp/village sites), the number of recorded mounds in the Janesville
area is high. This is in part due to early attempts at identifying only mound sites. Taken
together, known single and multiple burials not located within mound contexts account for four
sites. Table 1 suggests that prehistoric Native Americans utilized the Janesville area more
extensively during certain periods. When eliminating the unknown prehistoric category, sites
associated with Woodland and Historic American Indian time periods are more numerous.
Prehistoric Occupation of the Janesville Area
The Early Paleoindian period represents the earliest widely accepted prehistoric
manifestation in the New World. The distribution of these sites is continental, and similar
materials have been recovered from sites in South America. These people successfully adapted
to a range of environments. At least 170 examples of fluted points have been reported for
Wisconsin, including almost all of the counties in the southern and central portions (Salkin
1973; Stoltman and Workman 1969).
While Early Paleoindian sites may be present in and around Janesville, none have been
recorded. If these sites were present, their most distinctive technological aspect would be the
fluted point: a lanceolate point with a distinctive groove or flute running from the base up the
blade. It is likely that the flutes were features relating to the hafting of the points. The
subsistence base of Early Paleoindian people varied according to their environment. Early
Paleoindian sites in the western U.S. have yielded evidence for the hunting of such extinct
Pleistocene megafauna as mammoths, mastodons, horses, and camelids. In the eastern U.S.,
evidence exists for the hunting of deer and caribou and it is assumed that the western Early
Paleoindians made use of the larger species.
An interesting case for the killing of a mastodon in Wisconsin by early hunters equipped with
fluted points comes from a site discovered in 1897 by several boys in the southwestern part of
the state. Mastodon remains were eroding out of a river bank near Boaz in Richland County.
Careful work by Palmer and Stoltman (1976) brought to the attention of archeologists a
projectile point that had apparently been found in association with the mastodon remains.
From a cluster of sites located in southeast Wisconsin have been reported late Pleistocene/early
Holocene faunal remains (Overstreet 1992, 1993). These sites included mammoth, mastodont,
barren ground caribou, and musk ox with specimens of both mammoth and mastodont bearing
butchering marks (Overstreet et al 1993).
It has been suggested that efficient hunting practices of the Paleoindians resulted in the
extinction of many large terrestrial herbivorous mammals (Martin and Klein 1984). Of course,
the striking climatic shift at the end of the Ice Age played a major role in these extinctions.
The social structure during the Early Paleoindian period probably revolved around small
groups or even family units. Some sites, such as the Debert Site in Nova Scotia (MacDonald
1968) suggest seasonal reoccupation by larger bands that gathered for communal hunting.
The Late Paleoindian period represents the last manifestation of the Late Pleistocene big game
hunting tradition in the New World. It began toward the end of the Pleistocene and continued
into the early post-glacial period. During this time glacial ice was retreating northward and
Prehistoric and Historic Native American Occupation
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