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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Barriers, Boundaries, and Byways: Water, Mobility, and Society in the Woodland and Colonial Period of the North American Atlantic Coast

  • Author(s): Salwen, Stephanie A.
  • Advisor(s): Smith, Monica L
  • et al.

Rivers and streams not only shape the physical geography but can alter cultural perceptions of landscape and influence social organization within and among human communities. Rivers are often perceived as conduits to movement yet waterways have nuanced and at times contradicting characteristics, which people may emphasize differently over space or through time. This study defines four ways in which rivers are incorporated in human mobility patterns: as conduits, obstacles, boundaries, and barriers. These uses reflect the entanglement between humans and moving waterways, suggesting that a waterway’s perceived utility is dependent on both the environmental characteristics of the water and the cultural contexts. In this dissertation, I consider the archaeological evidence for these mutable uses through a comparative spatial analysis of site distribution relative to streams within two Atlantic coast river basins, the James River basin in Virginia and the Saint John River basin that extends through Maine and New Brunswick (Canada). The complex landscapes of inland lakes and rivers have played an active role in the development of native culture in these regions by facilitating navigation, trade, and interaction from prehistory through colonial occupation. Each region provides a different perspective on the human-hydro relationship due to differences in environmental and cultural contexts. Diachronic shifts in site distribution relative to water demonstrate the effects of colonialism on local populations. The project also considers the taphonomic effects of database management on the archaeological record and the implications for extracting usable data from government and CRM datasets for database-driven research.

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