From Southeastern Archaeology, Winter 1998

Reviewed by Charles H. Faulkner

When a book on archaeological research is reprinted, it usually means that it deals with very significant subject matter and the data are still relevant to current researchers. Patty Jo Watson's edited Archaeology of the Mammoth Cave Area meets both of these criteria. First published in 1974, this volume is a classic study of the archaeology of the "dark zone" of caverns which dot the karstic landscape of the Middle South. Although nineteenth-century antiquarians realized that prehistoric Native Americans ventured into the stygian darkness of these caves, it was Watson and the contributors to this book who clearly demonstrated that these aboriginal cavers frequently and systematically explored and mined deep cave passages during the Late Archaic and Early Woodland periods.

In the bibliography attached to her 1997 Foreword, Watson lists a dozen publications since 1974 on North American dark zone archaeology None of this work, however, has superseded Archaeology of the Mammoth Cave Area in demonstrating the unique preservation of dry cave environment, documenting the speleological knowledge of intrepid prehistoric cavers who braved this potentially hostile environment, and describing the material remains allowing these early explorers to survive and work underground.

This profusely illustrated book contains 31 chapters arranged in six parts dealing with surface work in Mammoth Cave National Park, Salts Cave archaeology, Mammoth Cave archaeology, aboriginal use of other caves in the National Park area, and archaeology in Wyandotte Cave, Indiana. Watson concisely sums it all up in chapters on the prehistoric miners and horticulturalists of the Mammoth Cave area. While each part is vital to the whole, the discussion of normally perishable cultural remains in the humid Southeast highlights this study. These remains include cave gear, mining equipment, and paleofeces, the latter providing a detailed and still current study of the diet of these early pre-maize horticulturalists and cavers.

If you didn't buy the first edition, here is your chance to acquire a book on one of the most exciting frontiers of Eastern Woodlands archaeology.