Principles of Geoarchaeology: A North American Perspective(Paperback Edition). Michael R. Waters. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1996. xxiv + 398 pp., 139 figures, 7 tables, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-8165-1770-3. $24.95.
Reviewed by Hector Neff, Missouri University Research Reactor Center, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211 USA.
I found this book both extremely useful and enjoyable to read. The new, paperback edition is affordably priced, and I highly recommend it to both students and professional archaeologists.
Whereas some other books with "geoarchaeology" in the title cover such topics as dating, geophysical prospection, and provenance determination, Waters limits his coverage to sedimentology and pedology in Quaternary North American contexts. The latter contexts are, of course, of special interest because they contain the archaeological record most of us trained in North America will be studying. Chapter 2 should be required reading for every student during his/her first field class or field school. It succinctly describes processes of sediment accumulation and how sediments are described; what happens to sediments during soil formation and how to describe soils; and how to interpret stratigraphy as the result of sedimentological and pedological processes operating over time. The last part of Chapter 2 deals with landscape reconstruction and site formation processes, ending up with a brief synthesis of geoarchaeological investigations at the Lubbock Lake site; this example is extremely well chosen, for it effectively highlights all of the main topics covered in earlier sections of the chapter and demonstrates the importance of situating archaeological remains within their geological context.
Chapters 3 through 6 examine in more detail the various geological contexts in which the North American archaeological record is preserved. Alluvial environments (Chapter 3) are of special interest because humans have always made intensive use of the rich and varied biotic resources they contain. Eolian environments (Chapter 4); springs, lakes, rockshelters and caves, glacial deposits, and slopes (Chapter 5); and coastal environments (Chapter 6) likewise contain substantial remains of prehistoric and historic human activity. Waters succinctly describes how physical processes create landforms and how archaeological deposits accumulate in each of these environments. Examples are presented both within the text and in lengthy, informative captions to the numerous well-chosen figures.
Chapter 7 describes the processes that affect the integrity of archaeological deposits once they are buried. These processes include both physical processes (freeze-thaw cycles, shrinking and swelling of clayey soils, mass wasting on slopes, and deformation) and biological processes (root growth and decay, tree fall, and effects of burrowing animals). Again, illustrations are used effectively to clarify key points.
In Chapter 8, Waters briefly describes what geoarchaeologists do. He points out the differences between the geoarchaeologists field and lab procedures and those of the archaeologist and argues for close interdisciplinary cooperation from research design through final report. I certainly endorse the need for integrating specialists with different skills into archaeological research. But what this book brought home to me most of all is how central geoarchaeology is to our field. Do we really just need more interdisciplinary collaboration, or might we also need curriculum changes that produce archaeologists with better backgrounds in earth sciences? Waters editorializes on the first need, and his book makes a solid contribution toward fulfilling the second.