Ancient Cold Weather Adaptations in the Northern Great Plains
Publication Type:Conference Paper
People have lived in the northern part of the Great Plains of North America since the end of the Pleistocene era. Throughout this long period of occupation, the region has been subject to seasonal extremes in climate. This paper surveys ethnohistorical and archaeological records for information about cultural adaptations to cold weather, specifically, adaptations in use before the arrival of Euro-American agriculturists. Important adaptations included: (1) tailored skin clothing; (2) portable tipi housing; (3) communal and individual hunting methods; (4) food storage by freezing, caching, drying, and the use of domestic animals as food; (5) transportation by snowshoes, toboggans and sleds; (6) seasonal distribution of occupation sites; (7) special kinds of winter recreation; and (8) reckoning of time by the passage of winters and the keeping of long-term histories known as winter counts. The survey shows that ethnohistoric records provide a vivid depiction of these adaptations during early historic times. Archaeological evidence reveals the great time depth for several of the practices, changes that occurred in some, and a means for resolution of ethnohistoric problems such as the distribution of cold weather sites.