Many archaeological sites are buried by alluvium in floodplain and terrace settings. Finding and studying these sites can provide new insights into how river systems evolved throughout the Holocene.
This topic has long been a staple of Geoarchaeology, given the close relationships between peoples and rivers. Compelled to work at the minute scales of archaeological excavations, geoarchaeologist routinely find that subsurface stratigraphy in alluvial settings is much more complex than surface conditions can reveal. This is as true in small valleys as in large valleys. A great area to study alluvial deposits in detail has been in the Sny Bottom portion of the Mississippi River in western Illinois, near Hannibal, Missouri. Based on more than two hundred core holes, geoarchaeological studies at several mitigated sites, and a number of radiocarbon dates obtained by recovering uncarbonized plant macrofossil assemblages, the Sny Bottom record is interpreted to reflect the effects of very large (extra-historical) Upper Mississippi River floods on the Holocene evolution of this anastomosed floodplain reach. This study highlights the importance of alluvial terrace veneer facies and provides examples of how archaeological surfaces can be quickly buried even in the absence of buried soils, or paleosols.