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Along the Mighty Quinn: Palaeoclimates and Human Occupation in the Quinn River Drainage
  • Mark Hall,
  • Tanner Whetstone
Mark Hall
Black Rock Field Office, Bureau of Land Management

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Tanner Whetstone
Black ROck Field Office, Bureau of Land Management
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The Upper and Lower Quinn River subbasins (HUC-8 16040201,16040202) comprise one of the largest single drainages in northwest Nevada. The sub-basins cover approximately 1.7 million hectares. The Quinn river originates in the Montana Mountains and Santa Rosa Range and drains to the Black Rock Desert Playa. The elevational gradient ranges from 2000 m to 1100 m. Sagebrush and perennial grasses dominate the higher elevations, with the lowlands being dominated by greasewood, saltbrush, and desert scrub. This presentation examines the human habitation in the sub-basins over the past 13,000 years in context to the palaeoclimatic records from the sub-basins and adjoining areas. Over 1100 prehistoric sites exist in the study area, with 19 sites having been excavated and yielding 108 radiocarbon dates. Palaeoclimate proxies from the study area include the Mud Meadows and Summit Lake pollen cores, and the Jackson Mountain tree ring widths. While the radiocarbon record shows numerous gaps between 13 kBP and 5 kBP, the summed probability distribution of calibrated radiocarbon dates suggests continuous occupation from 5 kBP to 1 kBP with exponential growth. Based on the abundance of Chenopodiaceae pollen in the Summit Lake core, the study area is drier than today during the Late Holocene Drought (LHD, ca. 2.5 to 1.9kBP). During the LHD, sites south of 41N are abandoned or see no growth; northwards, sees site growth. Despite contrasting climatic conditions, the Late Antique Little Ice Age (LALIA) and the Medieval Climatic Anomaly (MCA) are both periods of site occupation and growth across the sub-basins. Occupied sites are found throughout the sub-basins during the LALIA, and during the MCA site occupation is focused at Trego hot springs and at higher elevations. As evidenced by the three palaeoclimate proxies from the sub-basins, the Little Ice Age is a period of cooler temperatures and increased moisture. Despite the ameliorated conditions, the number of dated sites significantly decreases. This may reflect a more dispersed settlement pattern with lower numbers of residents during the Terminal Prehistoric period.