Archeology – Transportation Frontier of North America

free essay

North American Frontiers and Boundaries in an Archaeological Perspective

Most archaeological studies of boundaries and frontiers are regarded from the colonialist perspective. Some of these problems will be analyzed with the help of insular model of territorial expansion and cultural change that treated the frontiers as passive recipients of the core innovation. The paper will highlight the heavy reliance on macro-balances that analyze the frontier research as well as the visible material culture. Moreover, the essay will consider conceptualizing the frontiers as cross-cutting zones for social network based mainly on the outposts of North America (Reich, 2011). The scientific approach utilized for this research considers the study of a diverse and overlapped segment and factional groups that cut across the traditionally perceived colonial and indigenous boundaries.

It comprises the geographical, cultural, historical, and folklore experiences of life in the forward wave of the American Northern and Western expansion. It started with the establishment of the English colonial settlements in late 16th century and ended with the annexation of mainland territorial regions as illustrated with the formation of states in the early 20th century. Popular attention in the media is paid to the US states of the last half of 19th century (Calvert, 1997). That period is at times referred to as the ‘Wild West’ or the ‘Old West’ that frequently exaggerates the violence and romance associated with the period.

As illustrated by Reich (2011), the frontier history explains the creation of community defense, use of land, market development, and the formation of states. More specifically, the whole episode is a tale of conquest that comprises the themes of persistence, survival, emerging markets, and people’s cultures that provided a continued life to America. It was through the treaties with native tribes and foreign nations, political compromise, establishment of new laws, military conquest, building of ranches, farms, and towns, excavations of mines, development of railroads and involving migration of foreigners that the Americans were able to expand from coast to coast and north to south in their attempt to fulfill the dream of manifesting destiny (Wooster, 2009).

According to the ‘Frontier Thesis’ by Frederick Jackson Turner (1962), the theorized frontier was a process of transforming Europeans into new American people whose values were focused on democracy, equality, optimism, self-reliance, and individualism. As the frontier had entered the history, the fiction of western myths and films took hold of the imagination of foreigners and Americans alike. However, Americans were unique in choosing an exceptional self-image that no other nation had created while spending time on constructing the imaginable model of government like it has today (Turner, 1962).

The frontier line was basically the outer line of settlement. From 1630s to 1880, it steadily moved westwards with occasional movements from the north to Vermont, Maine, and southwards to Florida, as well as eastwards to Nevada and California. The colonial frontier was marshaled in the Colonial Era before 1776 and the west one was one of the frontiers that was highly prioritized by politicians and settlers. In the Colonial Era, the American frontier started when the Jamestown Virginia became a colonial settlement in 1607, which is the earliest period of European settlement along the Atlantic coast. The frontier was any part of the inner continental plan that went beyond the fringes of the existing settlements along the coastline. The patterns of colonial expansion between the French, English Dutch, and Spanish were very different. In Canada, only a few thousands of French migrated and settled in the country and settled in villages along the St. Lawrence River constructing buildings that remained stable for centuries, while the British rushed to the west. The French fur traders traversed far and wide across the great lakes and the mid-west region as they settled down in a few villages such as Kaskaskia and also bigger ones like New Orleans. Likewise, the Dutch established their trading posts along the Hudson River Valley that had large grants of land and rich landowning patrons, who purchased it from tenant farmers and impacted permanent villages. A dense rural settlement in the upstate market of New York was created, but it never expanded westwards (Reich, 2011).

However, the seaboard English settlement was prioritized by land ownership to individual farmers. As the population increased, settlers forwarded their expansion strategies westwards in a search of fresh farms. Unlike other settlement groups, the British lived in small landlord owned communities. The land ownership in American was widespread, cheap, and easy. The landowners introduced an aspect of independence which resembled a typical New England idea. Moreover, a conflict between landlords and natives arose as a result of political issues on who would rule.

The Frontiers and Archaeology

Although this concept is traditionally characterized by diverse criteria, a frontier involved a mixed zone of interaction where different societies met in active competition. Modern archaeological studies have made attempts to develop frontier adaptation models, but most of them are incomplete due to their failure to consider interrelationships with both indigenous and intrusive cultures. The implications of these archaeological frameworks to frontier dynamics can be illustrated through the changes experienced in the Euro-American and Indian settlements and subsistence patterns, material culture, and economics that existed during the colonization of the Eastern Northern America by the Europeans.

The frontier concept has become a controversial subject among the archaeologists in America. The matter is that the judicious use of the concept can rejuvenate the basic theoretical subfields of acculturation studies and historical archaeology. Thus, the frontier concept has to be treated with regard to a critical review in terms of both the definition and application of archaeological and anthropological problems.

Development of the Archaeological Frontier Model

The archaeological discovery established that the American and Indian material cultures were changed remarkably due to close contact with the Europeans and later the Euro-Americans. According to Reich (2011), some archaeological evidence was introduced showing that white societies dominated in frontier lines in early America. The pioneering archaeological models were imaginative and innovative in their efforts to derive and use archaeological data. Some of them suffered from the problems depicted by their assumptions. For example, the widely accepted notion of archeological data supports the idea of extensive adoption of Euro-American material culture by the red Indians. In general, it is based on the fact that there was inherent recognition of the superiority of technology brought from Europe. In fact, the Indian technological adaptation was initially superior to that of the Europeans because their first attempts to establish colonies in the new American environment depended heavily on the food supplies produced by the Indian natives.

According to Calvert (1997), a notion that some of the Indian objects and tools were less durable than those of their European counterparts is deniable. However, the acceptance of those new items was subjected to some cultural and physical constrains. Considering the new trade items infusion in the American market and Indian culture, there was a gradual process and not just a break from their past traditions. The response to the native groups was in accordance to their own cultural backgrounds which substituted the old for new ones within the provisions of their own economic, social, and subsistence systems.

The consequences of technological superiority presumed an idea that the gradual replacement of the materials of the Indian culture by the European products could be directly translated into archaeological terms. From that reasoning, the sites with just a few trade goods were assumed to be dated earlier than those with many other trade goods. Wooster (2009) forcefully argued that the actual frontier situations were more complex. The aboriginal groups who were in direct contact with the British along the Hudson Bay acted as middlemen and re-traded the used goods to distant tribes instead of disposing them locally as worn-out items. This can be a possible explanation of the presence of skewed data in archaeological terms.

In other instances, the Eskimo sites in South-West Alaska had only few trade goods discovered compared to Tanaina sites. The classless west Alaska Eskimos had the ability to satisfy their material needs with comparably few European artifacts while the major accumulation of trade goods in Tanaina implies that there was a high presence of trade activities to maintain the society’s place of authority within the ranked social setting (Reich, 2011). It is obvious that any archaeological model could be used to explain different situation of the American frontier and the expansion policies based on the theorist personal views. These models were also used to predict the inverse correlation between the European and Indian artifacts through the time approach in order to account for either the dynamics of the multiple frontiers or the diversity of native society.

Therefore, there are three major archaeological models that were developed to explain the cultural changes to the Euro-American view of the frontier (Lewis, 1975). Waselkov and Lewis models were independent and based on the theoretical framework developed by Thompson (1973). The later occupation phases presumably reflected the end of intellectual contacts between the societies and paved a way for the gradual incorporation of the region for commercial and political annexation of the North America. Documentary evidence indicates that the entire St. Charles region was the assembly point important for tracing the subsistence settlement and demographical patterns which took place during the frontier period.

Archaeological Evidence

The analysis of the excavated materials reveals that the frontier’s hypothesized evidence indeed existed since the earliest period of occupation. Evidence of the anticipated contact between the foreigners and the American Indians was scarce; it basically consisted of a few trade items, five glasses, and some cowrie shells. There were plenty of animal bones on most of those sites indicating that the major economic activity was hunting and served as one of the most important supplements to their diet. Pigs and sheep were identified to be the major source of meat sources. The massive but simple log house was constructed with no metal hardware, but it was discovered that the earlier generations had some knowledge about metal because blacksmiths were known for their skills in making nails. The excavated artifact inventories that could be associated with the past life include wine bottlenecks and bases, ceramic fragments, bones and shell buttons, gunflints, axe, anvil swage, nail rods, and trade beads. Those items were predominantly utilitarian and lacked variety compared to the sites in the eastern part of the region and indicated the later stages of occupation. Moreover, there were certain stages of transition from the frontier to establish a fact that the society could be recognized from archaeological data.

Kenneth Lewis model indicates that the Jamestown frontier is a complex but salient point of providing evidence for archaeological purposes. The theory hypothesized several changes caused by the trade in the social, economic, and subsistence factors in the society through the communication subsystem of an intrusive culture that was predicted to occur in the course of the colonization frontier (Lewis, 1975). In order to effectively apply this model, there are specific test implications that every hypothesis can deduce. Usually they relate to the expected changes that were likely to occur within the British socio-cultural system. The exposure of Britons to the West Virginia environment and the attenuated nature of its relative position against the English homeland by the 17th century was a hard situation to cope with due to numerous circumstances. The implications of these tests are then compared to the deviations in the patterns of archaeological data against the independent check of source data on Jamestown.

Various hypotheses concerning the simplification and limitation of specialization are the major causes of transplanted colonial cultures. For example, Lewis predicted that Jamestown colonialists would have diversified their subsistence by abandoning specialization and hunting as compared to the corresponding activities in England. Specialization in agriculture could have demanded more labor force that was quite limited in Jamestown. Thus, the region produced less crop varieties and even fewer goods were manufactured. It would, therefore, create a simpler social order that would have fewer hierarchically arranged social levels. While the available archaeological data is insufficient to address some of the posited changes, Lewis made it a good case precedence for the others. He argued that the presence of archaeological settlement patterns in dispersed farmlands and lack of densely nucleated villages implies that the absence of the open farming fields in Virginia was a characteristic of the open midland England (Lewis, 1975). In some of the excavated sites, there is evidence of simple manufactured items in limited quantities such as pottery, lime kilns, bricks, glass house, and iron forge.

Archaeological Data and Cosmopolitan Frontiers

The cosmopolitan frontier of colonization that is associated with the insular frontiers can be assessed through various forms. Its historical data can be divided into broader topics in order to explore each separately. When investigating the history of the cosmopolitan frontier, it is important to develop a model that attempts to highlight the cosmopolitan frontier in its depth. The composition and distribution of settlement patterns in the region of cosmopolitan frontier reveals the specialized orientations of each region. A settlement in each frontier was established to extract and process the commercial products that were available in the areas to sustain and supply the extractive processes (Dill, 2012).

Consequently, the settlement patterns were also linked to governance variables depending on the location and nature of resources, availability, extractive technology available, the distance to the market, processing requirements and presence of hostile groups. The structure of each cosmopolitan frontier indicates the tasks and processes undertaken by colonialists in each region. The organization of settlement for each type of frontier that included the link to a particular settlement frontier is discussed.

The Structure of Settlement Frontier

The Trading Frontier

Trading activities had a far reaching and transient effect as they had the basic goal behind expansion. The aim was to acquire as much trade goods as possible through extraction or exchange of things with the aboriginal groups. That frontier only required the presence of traders and a stock of supplies with a definite transportation link between the source of supply and the post. Although the presence of goods was important in that frontier, there was no acquisition of procurement process. As a result, it did not require the traders to employ complex procurement technologies.

The trading frontiers were designed to obtain marketable products from the natives in the region to where the trade was undertaken. Once the frontier was established, it existed as a stable entity provided that the sale of those products was constant. The frontier ceased to exist only when the products declined and the role of the region in the economy of the colonialists changed drastically. Exhaustion of commodities of trade and an increase in the market demand of the products led to the expansion of the frontier, i.e. to where the trade goods or their alternatives might be found. That led to the creation of new trading posts and enlargement of the already existing frontier.

Organization of trade frontiers required relatively simple structures and little presence of intensive society at the trading posts. In those places, goods were assembled before and after the exchange. The trade routes were less likely to be improved as long as there was a smooth flow of trade goods. The resulting settlement patterns, thus, consisted of separate sites with specialized economic functions situated along the edges of the trading territories. Such settlement might be situated along the transport routes like rivers but was in accessible locations where it was easily influenced by trade (Harvey, 2010). The specialized functions of such settlements can also be reflected in the relatively little archaeological data related to the frequency of kitchen artifacts. The small sizes of the domestic components and large evidence of trading goods indicated that the settlement pattern in those regions were defined by trading activities and thus determined the growth and expansion of the trading frontier.

Ranching Frontiers

Like trading, ranching is a geographically extensive activity that requires large tracts of land for a relatively small number of colonialists. Unlike trade, ranching entails the actual production of the commodities, which are basically a livestock. The amount and vastness of land required to support each head of cattle varied with the environment of the region. Due to the fact that economies of scale allowed to decrease the cost of production per head, more land was required to sustain such activities. Large lands required for that economic activity determined to a greater extent the distribution of settlement patterns. According to Dill (2012), the settlement in the American Great Plains was scattered at an interval of 20 to 50 miles.

In such type of frontier, the ranch was primarily the settlement unit because it was the center at which the production of livestock was performed. The settlement was later linked to the larger economies of the world through a series of urban centers, whose presence was also a part of the entire settlement pattern in the ranching frontier. Those urban centers were also used as terminus for other forms of transport like railroads or ports for navigable rivers. They were basically used to facilitate shipping of livestock from the production centers to the market. Although the livestock had the capability to be driven through uneven terrains to the market, the effect of driving could limit the distance through which they could be economically be transported. As a result, the opening of new ranching frontiers was usually accompanied by the presence of a new market settlement along its fringe. Specialized market centers for livestock can also be recognized archaeologically by the presence of variety of economic activities and large presence of animal bones which might have resulted from drought and diseases.

Transportation Frontier

According to Harvey (2010), transportation frontier was just like the others. Transport links were associated with the establishment of cosmopolitan frontier region and served as a part of the frontiers. The transportation frontier represented an intrusive society that connected the frontier with the homelands. Unlike other frontiers that involved production, the region that was covered by such frontier had some resources to be exploited. The transport frontier involved some trade routes; thus, the settlement was developed to sustain the routes and their activities. For protection, the colonial governments and traders facilitated the establishment of garrisons to enhance security of traders and their trade goods. Thus, the transport and trade frontiers can be termed as the major contributors to the creation of a military frontier being a support facility for colonization. However, due to external factors, the transport frontier had its rise and fall and later paved a way for the full control of colonial authority.

A Framework for the Archaeological Frontier Models

The three major models of Lewis, South, and Waselkov vividly demonstrate that frontiers are very important elements in understanding the cultural phenomena, which can be recognized through the archaeological records. They illustrate how archaeologists can more effectively coordinate and structure their research topics to understand the history of mankind. These three theories demonstrate that treating the frontiers as cultural exchange and social interaction zones should enable archaeologists not only to trace some details of social political change but also explains the presence of the aspect of competing cultures (Waselkov, Brian, & Herbert, 1981). They also explained the exceptions and regularities in terms of particular model of the frontier dynamics.

The Research Framework and Its Three Presuppositions

  1. Frontier models should deal specifically with the interrelationship between the intrusive and the indigenous societies. Such step is important because it differentiates the frontier from the colonization and acculturation models with direct attention towards the individual societies in a contact situation. In order to recognize and interpret the changes associated with the frontiers, one must know some natural details about the participation of communities in society before they began contacting with each other. Bee (1974) suggests that once the states are established, the subsequent development of the models can be compared.
  2. Frontiers should be considered as open systems, whereas a change in one subsystem can have an impact on the other one to some extent. Once a social change is involved, the frontier in question is recognized and the remaining task becomes innovation of the model while providing an explanation for its acceptance. In an open frontier, innovation may be comprised of totally new behavioral patterns, modifications, retention or rejection of the already existing traditional patterns or a selective adoption of other related frontier societies (Waselkov, Brian, & Herbert, 1981). In addition, the cultural environment that is beyond the narrow bounds of the frontier can be the major source of the external causes of the local changes which cannot be properly explained in isolation.
  3. Changes in human adaptive behavior are generally conservative. It implies that societies adjust to the environment in terms of their own cultural traditions, preferably, by attempting to maintain a clear value system intact when trying to choose a new behavioral option in a dynamic cultural environment (Calvert, 1997).

Through the use of these three assumptions of the basic framework, the individual models of a specific frontier can be constructed with the account of variation in the natural environment and constraints or opportunities for change depending on the specific culture involved. There is no specific frontier that has been adequately studied in the archaeological concept in order to exclusively demonstrate its advantage in a particular frontier situation.

Therefore, the archaeological discipline considers several changes in the Euro-American and Indian settlement such as economic, cultural, and subsistence patterns, which occurred during European colonization of the Eastern and Northern America with more emphasis on Tidewater Virginia.

Transportation Frontier of North America

The motive that dominated over the colonialist’s expansion to the west was private to the government. The British government played a very important role in securing land through treaties, conquest and establishing territorial governments in each region. According to Waselkov (1979), the western territory was among the first regions to be acquired from the indigenous tribes through a treaty and then engaged the surveyors to document the land. Transport was a major issue, so that the military mandated the full responsibility of facilitating navigation and logistic services on roads and rivers. In 1811, the steamboats were first used on the Ohio River and their tributaries. Other related army expeditions followed in the 18th century that allowed engineers to improve technology (Waselkov, Brian, & Herbert, 1981).

Rangers of North America served in the wars of conquest that ranged between the 17th and 18th century against the native American tribes. The British were accustomed to regular wars based on frontiers, thus, developing the Ranger Company. The company employed combat soldiers by the colonial British government with the purpose of conducting patrol between the fixed fortified frontiers by counterchecking early warnings of raid. During offensive operations, they worked as scouts and guides who were positioned in villages and other targeted task forces that were drawn from the militia and other related colonial troops. In addition, the company was mandated to ensure that there was a free flow of goods from the farmlands and factories. Thus, the soldiers were engaged in making and maintaining of railroads as well as providing logistical support on water and rail (Axelrod, 1993).

Before the colonial rule was stabilized, the intrusive forces were involved in various wars by the locals and other interested parties like the French, who also sought dominance and control of North America. The Queen Anne’s War was the most important where the British won against the French Acadia. The final war took place between the French and Indians in late 1750s that resulted to France losing its all possessions in Canada. The war was a forerunner in providing the Americans and other colonialists some military experiences which they made use of in the American Revolution.

The British and French fought through a series of fronts. The wars were bloody and long, as well as with intensive suffering of all that were involved. However, the Indians were the long run losers while Spain and France were defeated. After the British won the battles, they took full control of the Indian power. However, in their attempts to revenge, frontier settlers were faced with constant raids by the Indians while many were killed, captured or retreated back away from the frontier. The most profitable form of wartime action which colonialists engaged in was privatizing, where piracy against an enemy ship was legalized. The other activity was hunting down the Indians in order to scalp them and claim the cash bounty offered by the mother country (Axelrod, 1993).

Significance of the Frontiers in the American History

Up to the 1880, America had a frontier settlement, but currently, the unsettled area is divided into independent settlement bodies that cannot be categorized as frontier lines. In this discussion, the extensive end of the westward movement marked the closure of the great historical movement. Up to present days, the American history has remained in a large degree the colonization history of the Great North and West. The existence of free land and the continuous American recessions were a vivid explanation of the historical development of America.

The American frontier can easily be distinguished from the European one which had fortified boundaries running through its densely populated continent. The most important thing about the American frontiers presumes hither edges of free land. In the census reports of the 18th century, the frontier was treated as the margins of settlement, which were characterized with a density of less than ten per square kilometer.

In an American settlement, the Europeans were observed to enter the continent with different motives in mind. One was to seek land for its increased population, to seek food for the people or to exercise his/her military powers in a free field, where less casualties of their own could be seen. However, the American Indians developed and modified that notion and reacted heavily on Europe but eventually lost the fight. The hypothesis of the recent past is based on the study of Europe annexation of America. In the 17 century, the frontier was advanced to the Atlantic in order to access transport routes for the purpose of connecting with the home countries in Europe (Wooster, 2009).

While the frontiers had no overriding logic, the study has identified several elements of the existence of frontiers that can be proven archaeologically. The premises presume a fact that the societies were treated as an integrated system, where subgroups were affected differently by the annexation and colonization process. The cultural changes that occurred respected the existence and adaptation of the society to the environment and each individual group’s perception to the collective experience.

Unlike the cosmopolitan fronts in colonization, the transportation frontier did not arise in response of the desire to exploit the economic resources on vast areas; instead, it was introduced as a way of facilitating protection, regulation, and maintenance of the transport and communication links in relation to the political control of the other frontiers in the region. Therefore, the transportation frontiers were used to active participation in active production. Due to their supportive nature, the military structures and the transport frontiers had their differences that affected other cosmopolitan frontiers.

Steps banner