Protohistoric archaeology
GreatArchaeology» Protohistoric archaeology

Protohistoric archaeology refers to the study of regions or periods using archaeological methods where only a partial or very limited historic record is available.

It is often applied to the transition period between the advent of literacy in a society and the writings of the first historians. The preservation of oral traditions may also complicate matters as this can provide a secondary historical source for even earlier events. More recently, colonial sites involving a literate group and a non-literate group , are also studied as protohistoric situations.

In Europe the late Iron Age and Roman periods may be considered protohistoric in most regions as written evidence from locally produced coins and inscriptions as well as passing mentions from classical historians based in the Mediterranean provide some information, but not enough to reconstruct past events satisfactorily.

This common problem has led archaeologists (for example, London [2000]) to argue that anthropological effort is not sufficient for answering archaeological problems, and that archaeologists should consequently carry out ethno archaeological work to answer these problems. These studies have paying concentration far more on the manufacture, use and discard of tools and other artifacts and have sought to respond such questions as what kinds of objects used in a living wage settlement are deposited in mittens or else other places where they may be preserved, and how possible an object is to be discarded near to the place where it was used.

An excellent instance of ethnoarchaeology is that of Brian Hayden (1987), whose team examined the manufacture of Mesoamerican quern-stones, as long as worthless insights into the manufacture of prehistoric quern-stones.

protohistoric archaeology
Protohistoric Archaeology at the Travertine Hot Springs

Travertine Hot Springs Area of Critical Environmental Concern near Bridgeport, Mono County, California, with an emphasis on developing a model to assist in future investigations of protohistoric sites and their importance in the study of cultural diffusion and acculturation in the Inyo-Mono region.

Many of the interactions of Caucasians and Native Americans in the Great Basin were destructive in nature, such as the Inyo County hostilities between 1860-1865, when the U.S. Army was sent to Owens Valley to quash uprisings of native warlike bands that were intent on driving the emigrating settlers and ranchers out of the valley. However, many Native American tribes along the east side of the Sierra Nevada were able to modify their living arrangements and daily life to integrate the persistent influence of Euroamerican culture.

The initial entry of Caucasians into the Bridgeport Valley was probably by Joseph Walker and Zenas Leonard in 1833, who were looking for a suitable pass across the Sierra Nevada. This prompted further expeditions through the area such as that of John Fremont following the East Walker River in 1843 on an expedition to the Sacramento Valley.

Many emigrant parties heading for California between 1840-1857 ended-up abandoning wagons full of supplies and personal belongings because they were unable to maneuver the wagons across the passes between Nevada and the western slope of the Sierra Nevada From 1857-1860, many prospectors heading east from the Sierra Foothills, to the Mono Diggings of Dogtown and Bodie, made observations regarding the many abandoned wagons and goods as well as skeletons of farm animals they saw strewn along the trails and passes between Sonora and the Bodie Hills.

While the huge influx of emigrants intent on farming and ranching in the fertile and profuse Big Meadows region (now modern Bridgeport Valley) began to take shape as a community, an abrupt change came over the region which conflicted with the traditional lifeways of the local Native Americans . One of the issues I plan to address in my investigation is how to determine -- via the archaeological record and through the use of ethnographic and archival materials -- whether the native peoples of the Bridgeport Valley found respite in such remote areas such as the pinyon-juniper covered ridges that rise up into the Bodie Hills just east of the valley and the Travertine Hot Springs.

My interest in the area of the Travertine Hot Springs was piqued by Kirk Halford's work there in 1997. Along with David Rambeau and Butch Sturgeon as field-crew, Halford surveyed and inventoried nine sites on the 200 acres of the Travertine Hot Springs study area.

The hot springs have been an important resource to the local native community since prehistoric times. The opportunity to continue investigative work focussing on the protohistoric time period has become an important step in establishing an archaeological record of the Travertine Hot Springs study area since no past research has been directly conducted in this immediate area.


A milling locus and two mounds on MNO-3114/H previously described by Halford (1998) were revisited, mapped, and artifacts recorded. Both of the mounds had concentrations of animal bone on the surface, as well as historic cans, ceramics, and glass fragments, obsidian debitage, and one obsidian flake-tool on one of the mounds.

One artifact class that I am particularly interested in is window pane glass. During a recent reconnaissance of the area it was noted that protohistoric sites in the Travertine Hot Springs study area contain scatters and concentrations of window pane glass, with no apparent historic structure having been developed in the area.


Regional prehistoric site records such as in Hall's Cultural Resource Inventory of the Surface Archaeology of the Bodie Hills Geothermal Area (1980), and ethnographic accounts of traditional subsistence patterns and general lifeways, as well as analysis of the archaeology present at the sites, I hope to tease out information on aspects of change by looking at functional changes on the sites and spatial patterning changes caused by outside pressures, as well as changes in traditional tool usage by way of integration of Euroamerican goods into the local native economy, such as : steel axes vs. stone axes, metal buckets and cans vs. basketry and pottery, guns vs. bows and arrows.

Native Americans continued to rely on traditional subsistence patterns while integrating new ideas and economic patterns from the emerging Caucasian society. Further analysis will play this idea out, but, on first impression the sites in the Travertine Hot Springs study area seem to include both traditional subsistence patterns as well as an increasing dependence on introduced Euroamerican goods.

Two areas that are worthy of further investigation are:

  • 1) The continued use of a millingstone industry which is found to be in context with processed Euroamerican food containers, which were becoming ever more available from established towns such as Bodie.

  • 2) Continued utilization of traditional game animals such as rabbits and artiodactyl, while taking advantage of the new domesticated animals (cattle and sheep) that were being introduced into the region in droves (as determined by studying the faunal remains of such animals that are associated with the two mounds discussed earlier at MNO-3114/H).

Rich Resources over the web on Taphonomy
  • Protohistory: Protohistory refers to a period between prehistory and history, during which a culture or civilization has not yet developed writing, but other cultures have already noted its existence in their own writings.

  • Protohistoric Archaeology :This Site will briefly outline my intentions for investigating several protohistoric sites.

  • About Protohistoric Archaeology : Protohistoric Archaeology on WN Network delivers the latest Videos and Editable pages for News & Events, including Entertainment, Music, Sports, Science and more, Sign up and share your playlists.

Diciplines by Regional study
  • African Archaeology

    African Archaeology Africa has the longest record of human activity of any part of the world and along with its geographical extent; it contains an enormous archaeological resource. Scholars have studied Egyptology for centuries but archaeologists have only paid serious attention to the rest of the continent in more recent times.
  • American Archaeology

    American Archaeology Archaeology of the Americas is the learning of the archaeology of North America, Central America (or Mesoamerica), South America and the Caribbean, which is to say, the pre-history and Pre-Columbian history of Native American peoples.
  • European archaeology

    European Archaeology In terms of area, Europe is the world's second smallest continent, with an area of 10,400,000 kmē (4,000,000 square miles), making it slightly larger than Australia.
  • Medival archaeology

    Medival archaeology The period covers the commotion caused by the fall of the Medival archaeology Roman Empire and cultures such as the Vikings, Saxons and Franks.
  • Near Eastern Archaeology

    Near Eastern Archaeology Near Eastern Archaeology is a wide generalised application, and is divided into further regional sub-branches, the archaeology of modern states in the region or along broad thematic lines.
  • Post Medieval Archaeology

    Post Medieval Archaeology The Post Medieval Archaeology is considered as a bi-annual journal study of the material evidence of European society. This period saw the conversion of medieval to industrial society.
  • Modern Archaeology

    Modern Archaeology In contrast to the antiquarianism of classical archaeology, anthropological archaeology today is concerned with culture history (i.e., the chronology of events and cultural traditions) and the explanation of cultural processes.