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The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
Within recent years, knowledge of the alluvial stratigraphy and associated chronology for the east-central Plains states of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma has expanded significantly. Forty-seven studies for the region, published and unpublished, provide information relevant to the problem. Data are, however, unevenly distributed spatially and temporally and are of varying depth. An examination of sites with radiocarbon control within the Kansas River system of Kansas identifies eight periods of floodplain stability as connoted by soil development: 10,600-10,200, 8,900-8,300, 7,250, 5,100-5,000, 4,300-4,000, 2,600-2,400, 2,100-1,600, and 1,200 yrs B.P. These periods of stability are corroborated by data from research elsewhere in the east-central Plains, indicating regional synchroneity in fluvial events. Resolution and quality of regional correlations would be significantly improved if interpretive problems were reduced through more complete and precise reporting of results.
Recent reviews of Pleistocene and Holocene fluvial histories have been presented by Baker (1983) and Knox (1983), respectively. Given the focus herein on the Holocene, the paper by Knox is most relevant but presents a total of only six studies from Kansas and the adjoining states of Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Time and space constraints in that study did not permit an in-depth examination of each region, including the east-central Plains. Some of the data was in unpublished or report form, and much has been made available since.
The first detailed basin-wide study of terraces and the age of fill in the region was carried out by Brice (1964) within the Loup River system of central Nebraska. The large number of recent alluvial stratigraphic studies completed since is a function of at least two factors: 1) the advent of easy access to radiocarbon-dating facilities, especially those which provide assays on non-wood organic sources such as soil humates, and 2) legislation enacted to require archaeological evaluation of sites and areas to be impacted by construction, particularly water-resources projects.
Our intent is to examine the Holocene alluvial history of Kansas. This, however, cannot be fully appreciated without discussing it within a regional context. We first summarize the alluvial histories for Kansas and the adjoining states of Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Regional correlations are then made within Kansas, primarily within the Kansas River basin, and subsequently between Kansas and the adjacent states.
Alluvial stratigraphy has been studied at 47 localities in the east-central Plains (fig. 1); some studies focus on specific sites, some on valley reaches, and others on entire drainage basins (table 1). Further, the context of these projects has varied from archeology to geomorphology to soils and geomorphology and to paleobotany. Depth of study also varies appreciably, from brief, unpublished, single-section descriptions to well published multi-year, valley-reach or basinwide endeavors.
Figure 1--Map of east-central plains showing localities discussed in text.
Table 1--Alluvial stratigraphy, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma studies.
|TW||12 Mile Creek||12 Mile Creek||A||S||Rogers, 1984|
|DE||Deer Creek||SG||B||Johnson, 1981, 1985|
|WO||Wolf Creek||SG||B||Johnson, 1981|
|SA||Saline River||Wilson Lake||SG||V||May, 1986|
|KJ||Kansas River||Junction City||G||S||Twiss, pers. comm., 1986|
|MD||McDowell Creek||G||S||Twiss, pers. comm., 1986|
|BB||Big Blue River||Coffey||14PO1||G||S||Schmits, 1978, 1980|
|KW||Kansas River||Wamego Bend||G||V||Bowman, 1985|
|KM||Kansas River||Meier sand pit||G||S||Johnson, 1985|
|KE||Kansas River||Eudora Bend||G||S||Dort, pers. comm., 1986|
|KB||Kansas River||Bonner Springs||SG||V||Holien, 1982|
|MA||Marmaton River||Ft. Scott Lake||SG||V||Schmits et al., 1983|
|mu||Munkers Creek||William Young||14MO304||A||S||Witty, 1982|
|CE||Cedar Creek||14CS355||A||S||Wood, 1977|
|NE||Neosho River||A||V||Rogers, 1984|
|FA||Fall River||Bridwell||14GR38||A||S||Johnson, 1971|
|WN||Walnut River, east branch||El Dorado Lake||SG||B||Artz, 1983|
|AW||Arkansas River||Wichita sand pits||PB||V||Jaumann et al., 1985|
|WH||Whitehead Creek||Hudson-Meng||A||S||Agenbroad, 1978|
|PU||Pumpkin Creek||G||B||Diffendal and Comer, 1983|
|DL||Dismal and Middle Loup rivers||G||B||Ahlbrandt et al., 1983|
|LO||Loup River system||S||B||Brice, 1964|
|SL||South Loup River||SG||B||May, 1985|
|ME||Medicine Creek||G||B||Brice, 1966|
|Ll||Lime Creek||A||S||Davis, 1962|
|PL||Platte River||G||V||Davis, 1955|
|LB||Little Blue River||Sohn||23JA11O||SG||S||Johnson, 1978|
|May Brook||23JA43||G||S||Kopsick, 1980|
|Blue Springs and
|Blue Springs Lake||SG||B||Mandel, 1985|
|PH||lower Perche-Hinkson basins||G||B||Kopsick, 1981|
|SG||B||Mandel et al., 1985|
|OS||Osage River||SG||V||Johnson et al., 1981|
|SG||S||Lees et al., 1982|
|PO||Pomme de Terre River||G||V||Brakenridge, 1981|
|G||V||Haynes, 1976, 1985|
|TE||Tesequite Creek||PB||V||Wilson, 1972|
|CK||Cimarron River||Keystone Lake||SG||V||Salisbury, 1980|
|CA||Little Caney River||Copan Lake||SG||V||Hall, 1977a|
|SG||B||Reid and Artz, 1984|
|CD||Candy Creek||Candy Lake||A||V||Saunders, 1980|
|BI||Birch Creek||Birch Lake||SG||V||Hall, 1977b|
|HO||Hominy Creek||Skiatook Lake||SG||V||Henry, 1980|
|AP||Arkansas River||ETSI Pipeline||SG||S||Lees et al., 1982|
|IL||Illinois River||PB||S||Winter, 1979|
|CH||Cache Creek basin||SG||B||Hall, 1978|
|WA||Washita River||G||V||Goss et al., 1972|
|CR||Cedar Creek||Cowden laterals dam||G||V||Nials, 1977|
|CN||Carnegie Canyon||Ft. Cobb laterals dam||SG||V||Hall and Lintz, 1983|
|SG||V||Lintz and Hall, 1983|
|DO||Domebo Canyon||Domebo||G||S||Albritton, 1966|
|DE||Delaware Canyon||SG||V||Hall, 1982|
|JA||Jackfork Creek||Bug Hill||34PU116||G||V||Johnson, 1983|
|1The map code references locations in fig. 1.
2Emphasis upon: A archeology; S site specific; G geomorphology; V valley; B entire basin;
SG soils and geomorphology; PB paleobotany
The first alluvial stratigraphic investigations in Kansas focused upon the various terrace systems, the development of which was attributed to Pleistocene climatic fluctuations. Newell (1935), Hoover (1936), Lohman (1941), and Jewett (1949) referred to or described terraces in the Kansas River valley but proposed no nomenclature. Several subsequent works did introduce names: the Kirwin terrace on the North Fork Solomon River (Frye and Leonard, 1949; Leonard, 1952), the Schoenchen terrace on the Smoky Hill River (Frye and Leonard, 1952), the Almena terrace on Prairie Dog Creek (Frye and Leonard, 1949), the Menoken, Buck Creek, and Newman terraces of the Kansas River (Davis and Carlson, 1952), and both the Holliday terrace (McCrae, 1954; Elks, 1979) and the correlative Intermediate Surface complex (Dufford, 1958), also on the Kansas River. Subsequent research has provided insight into the ages of the fills as well as the terraces (Johnson, 1985).
The first attempt to synthesize Holocene alluvial chronologies of the east-central Great Plains, by Johnson and others (1980), was based upon reconnaissance surveys, radiocarbon dating of material from stream-bank exposures in Kansas and Oklahoma, and examination of the existing literature. Using the available data, they identified an episode of soil formation on floodplains within Kansas and adjacent areas of Oklahoma and Missouri that ended about 2,000 yrs B.P.; alluviation was common until about 1,000-800 yrs B.P., when widespread entrenchment began. During the last 6 yrs, significant expansion of the data base has occurred within the region, and particularly in Kansas. Existing research can be conveniently grouped into four regions: 1) the Kansas River tributaries of central and western Kansas, 2) the Kansas River and tributaries of northeastern Kansas, 3) the Arkansas River and tributaries, and 4) the Osage River tributaries of eastern Kansas.
Of the Kansas River system sites, the westernmost that reports radiocarbon-controlled alluvial information is the 12 Mile Creek site where a paleoindian artifact was found in association with extinct megafaunal remains buried in gully fill. A Bison antiquus limb bone produced dates of 10,435±260 (apatite) and 10,245±335 (gelatin) yrs B.P. (Rogers and Martin, 1984). In the T2 terrace fill deposited during the last 10,000 yrs along Wolf Creek, a tributary entering the Saline River below Wilson Lake, Bornowski (personal communication, 1982) recognized at least eight buried paleosols. Radiocarbon assays on soil humates and charcoal from buried soils in two different fills at separate localities produced dates of 10,580±140 and 2,060±140 yrs B.P., respectively. Soil humate dates of 5,090±60 and 1,740±70 yrs B.P. were obtained from two exposures in the upper reaches of Wilson Lake on the Saline River (May, 1986). Research on Deer Creek, a tributary to the North Fork Solomon River, identified two buried soils, dated at 4,120±270 (humates) and 1,890±90 (charcoal) yrs B.P. (Johnson, 1981).
Recent work also has been conducted along the Kansas River. A study by Holien (1982) on the lower Kansas River in the Bonner Springs area used geomorphic, geologic, faunal, and radiocarbon data to assemble the alluvial history dating from the late Pleistocene to present. Two terraces, the Newman and Holliday, were identified, and surfaces buried within the fill were dated at 10,430±130, 4,290±310, and 2,395±65 yrs B.P. A fourth date, 5,030±90 yrs B.P., was obtained from an Alnus sp. stump in situ on a surface exposed within the channel bed at low water. Subsequently, the senior author and W. Dort, Jr., have dated the upper 15 cm of two other buried soils at this site to 8,940±40 (DIC-3210) and 1,210±50 (DIC-3209) yrs B.P. A date of 110±40 (DIC-3255) yrs B.P. from the outer 20 rings of a 70-cm (28-inch)-diameter log (Salix sp.) verified the relative youth of inset fill at this site. The late prehistoric age of fill exposed in a rapidly migrating meander bend on the Kansas River near the town of Eudora was demonstrated by a date of 785±130 yrs B.P. obtained on wood exposed in a clay unit near the base of the bank (Dort, personal communication, 1984). In Holliday terrace fill near Topeka, sand and gravel extraction (Meier sand pit) exposed wood that was dated at 2,620±70 and 1,670±55 yrs B.P. by W. Johnson and P. Kopsick (Johnson, 1985). In a recent endeavor, Bowman (1985) related channel-bank erodibility and rate of channel migration to the character of different-aged alluvial fills in the Kansas River valley near the town of Wamego. Absolute-age control was obtained from a date of 7,250±110 yrs B.P. on humates from a paleosol buried within the Newman fill. Subsequently, we have dated humates from the upper 20 cm (8 inches) of another buried soil at an adjacent exposure to 8,310±120 (DIC-3208) yrs B.P.
Work also has been conducted on several tributaries of the Kansas River. At the Resco site (14LV1046) on Stranger Creek, wood (Ulmus sp.) from fill below the terrace has been dated at 4,260±55 yrs B.P. (Logan, 1985; Logan and Johnson, 1986). Twiss (personal communication, 1986) obtained one radiocarbon date of 3,960±135 yrs B.P. on an organic layer buried approximately 6 m (20 ft) below a terrace on McDowell Creek, a tributary to the Kansas River south of Manhattan, and another of 1,210±100 yrs B.P. from organics exposed in a roadcut through Kansas River valley alluvium near Junction City. In a study of opal phytolith and palynomorph assemblages contained within a buried soil exposed in Elbo Creek near Manhattan, Kurmann (1985) reported a radiocarbon date of 1,580±70 yrs B.P. on the soil humates. Schmits (1978, 1980) conducted an intensive archeological and paleo-hydrological study of the Coffey site (14P01) adjacent to the Big Blue River in northeastern Kansas. Archeological horizons within a soil formed near the top of channel fill (unit IV) produced dates of 2,320±60 and 2,480±55 yrs B.P. Based on these dates, Schmits (1980) concluded that the buried soil developed between about 2,300 and 2,000 yrs B.P.
Limited geomorphic research has been conducted on the Arkansas River and its tributaries within Kansas. Jamkhindikar (1967) studied sedimentary features and mineralogy of Pleistocene alluvium in the Neosho River drainage, but contributed little to the knowledge of Holocene alluvial geomorphology. Three archeological studies have briefly examined natural alluvial stratigraphy in tributaries of the Arkansas River. Research by Witty (1982) at the William Young site (14M0304) on Munkers Creek in the upper Neosho River drainage suggests a period of stability approximately 4,000 to 2,000 yrs ago. Johnson (1971) and Wood (1977) identified early Plains Woodland sherds associated with a poorly developed buried soil at sites on the upper Fall River (14GR38) and Cedar Creek (14CS355), respectively, two tributaries of the Cottonwood River; the cultural association would suggest an age of 2,000-1,500 yrs B.P. for these buried surfaces. The most intensive research effort reported to date in the Arkansas River basin of Kansas is that by Artz (1983) on the Walnut River. His study, conducted in conjunction with the El Dorado Lake Project, reconstructed the sequence of geomorphic changes and related them to archeological-site distribution and paleohydrology. Of particular note in this late Holocene reconstruction is a period of stability (soil formation) in the valley bottoms from about 4,000 to 2,000 yrs B.P. Rogers (1984) presented a synthetic analysis of archeological-site location and terrace systems for the Arkansas River (particularly the Neosho River) and, to a lesser extent, the Kansas River (Smoky Hill River) drainages. The study, which deals with terraces rather than terrace fills, noted a dramatic difference in terrace age between these two drainage systems and suggested tectonics, rather than climate or other causes, as being responsible for terrace formation and the disparity in terrace ages. In a recent study of the Medicine Lodge River, Martin (1985) recorded the presence of buried paleosols, presumably Holocene in age, and the existence of a prehistoric gully system re-excavated during the historic period.
Little geomorphic study has centered upon the Osage River system of extreme eastern Kansas. Schmits and others (1983), in a study conducted on the archeology and geomorphology of the Fort Scott Lake project area (Marmaton River), mapped and differentiated T1 and T0 surfaces, but did not radiocarbon date the surfaces or the underlying fill. The T1 surface was stabilized 1,500-1,000 yrs ago, based upon pedological and archeological evidence. Schmits (1984) recently assembled existing data for Milford, Melvern, and Pomona lakes in eastern Kansas, the latter two of which are located on the Osage River drainage. Terrace systems were recognized, but time control and stratigraphic information were lacking. We are aware of only one site on the Arkansas River in Kansas where alluvial fill has been radiocarbon dated: a date of 19,340+200, -210 yrs B.P. was obtained on peat extracted from approximately 10 m below a terrace located west of the city of Wichita (Jaumann et al., 1985). Holocene data for the Arkansas are apparently lacking, although reconnaissance surveys indicate a tremendous potential exists.
In Nebraska, the alluvial stratigraphic picture is somewhat more areally concentrated than in Kansas. Works by Brice (1964), May (1985), and May and Holen (1985) on the Loup River; Davis (1962) and Brice (1966) in the Medicine Creek area; Agenbroad (1978) at the Hudson-Meng site on Whitehead Creek; and Schultz and Martin (1970) at several sites across Nebraska all reported radiocarbon control for their stratigraphies and chronologies. The initial work on terraces and alluvial chronologies in Nebraska, conducted by Schultz and Stout (1948), contained no radiocarbon control. Schultz and Martin (1970) combined data from several sites to devise a T0 to T5 terrace sequence and ascribed terrace formation to Pleistocene glacial advances and retreats. This relative chronology dominated the Great Plains' stratigraphic chronologies for nearly 30 yrs. As noted earlier, Brice's (1964) Loup River study contains some of the first radiocarbon dates on alluvial fills in the region. May (1985) subsequently returned to the Loup River systems and greatly expanded upon Brice's work. In the central South Loup River valley, May recognized five Holocene alluvial fills, radiocarbon dated from about 9,800 to less than 900 yrs B.P. In addition to his work on the Loup River, Brice (1966) mapped and dated three terraces along Medicine Creek in southwestern Nebraska; based on these data, he constructed an alluvial chronology for the basin. In a study of the past dynamics of the Nebraska Sand Hills, Ahlbrandt and others (1983) radiocarbon dated organic-rich zones within alluvial sand and silt overlain by dune sand at five sites in the Dismal and Middle Loup rivers. Ages ranged from 3,000 to 8,410 yrs B.P. Davis (1962) and Schultz and Martin (1970) also developed alluvial chronologies for the state. On Lime Creek in southwestern Nebraska, Davis (1962) described three occupation zones in terrace fill, which is dated on the basis of faunal evidence. Schultz and Martin (1970) reported radiocarbon dates for the T2 and T1 terrace fills in south-central Nebraska. Research in progress at the North Cove site on Harlan County Reservoir, south-central Nebraska, has a late Pleistocene to early Holocene cut and fill sequence (Brown et al., 1986; Johnson et al., 1986). Two studies report data from northwestern and western Nebraska. Agenbroad (1978) obtained early Holocene radiocarbon dates on charcoal flakes and bison bone collagen and apatite from the Hudson-Meng buffalo-kill site on Whitehead Creek. An overlying paleosol was ascribed to stability during the Altithermal. In western Nebraska, Diffendal and Corner (1983) described three alluvial fills along Pumpkin Creek; all three are dated solely on the basis of faunal remains.
Moreso than in Nebraska, studies of alluvial geomorphology in Missouri have been related to major cultural-resource studies. Early work, set in the northwestern part of the state, was conducted by Davis (1955) who assigned two terraces along the Missouri River to the Wisconsin. Given recent studies in northeastern Kansas, where similarly defined terraces are now assigned to late Wisconsin and Holocene time, Davis' conclusions apparently need to be reinterpreted. In other work within northwestern Missouri, Kopsick (1980) reconstructed the geomorphic history of the lower May Brook valley, a tributary to the Little Blue River. Although T1 and T0 surfaces were described, absolute-time control came from radiocarbon dates, none of which was greater than 100 yrs B.P. Subsequent studies by Kopsick (1982) and Filer (1985) noted aggradation of T1 fill from about 8,000 to 2,000 yrs B.P. A summary by Mandel and others (1985) of recent work in the Perche-Hinkson drainage of central Missouri identified T1 and T0 surfaces, the former stabilizing between 3,000 and 1,000 yrs B.P. Elsewhere in Missouri, Abler (1976) used the stratigraphy of Rogers Shelter to reconstruct an 11,000-yr depositional history of the Pomme de Terre River of west-central Missouri. Subsequently, Haynes (1976, 1985) expanded upon the data derived from the rock shelter and defined five alluvial units spanning the last 38,000 yrs. In an expansion of earlier work by others on the alluvial history of the Pomme de Terre River valley, Brakenridge (1981) reconstructed the alluvial history for about the last 50,000 yrs and related variations in the stratigraphic record to changes in atmospheric circulation. Lees, Mandel, and Parker (1982), conducting archeological testing and geomorphic investigations on the Osage River downstream from the Harry S. Truman Dam, bracketed the formation of a buried soil between 3,000 and 1,500 yrs B.P. Some of the alluvial units defined in the Pomme de Terre River studies were possibly identified there as well.
The most concerted effort on a regional scale in Oklahoma has been the geomorphic research carried out in association with archeological work for several dam sites on tributaries of the Verdigris River system in the north-eastern part of the state. Collectively, these studies provide a detailed assessment of late Holocene geomorphology and paleoecology of the region. Stream systems investigated include Hominy Creek (Henry, 1980), Birch Creek (Hall, 1977a), Little Caney River (Hall, 1977b; Prewitt, 1980; Reid and Artz, 1984) and Candy Creek (Saunders, 1980). A pervasive stratigraphic element in these studies is the Copan paleosol, a buried soil which developed from approximately 2,000 to 1,350 yrs B.P. Salisbury (1980) conducted a limited-scale, soil-geomorphic analysis of the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers in the Keystone Reservoir area of northeastern Oklahoma. A buried soil was assumed to be the temporal equivalent of the Copan paleosol but was not verified with radiocarbon dating. The most recent alluvial geomorphic investigation in this part of the state pertained to stream crossings of the proposed ETSI Pipeline Project (Lees, Mandel, and Brockington, 1982); at one site crossing of the Arkansas River, a soil buried in alluvium was equated with the Copan paleosol, although no absolute-time control was indicated.
The first alluvial study to be reported from the canyons of the Washita River system in west-central Oklahoma was that of Albritron (1966), who reported an 11,200-yr geomorphic and stratigraphic record at the Domebo paleoindian site. Nials (1977) surveyed the geomorphology of Cedar Creek, another canyon in the region. Four Holocene terraces and two buried paleosols of Pleistocene age were identified; radiocarbon dating placed temporal limits on the terrace fill. In a third canyon, Delaware Canyon, 9 m (30 ft) of fill, dating to 3,000 yrs B.P. and less, exhibits a well-developed buried soil, the Caddo County paleosol, which formed between 2,050 and 1,050 yrs B.P., and the younger Delaware Creek paleosol, dated 600-400 yrs B.P. (Hall, 1982a). More recently, mollusks, radiocarbon-dated tree stumps buried in situ, paleosols, and a carbonate zone were used to reconstruct the geomorphology and climate for the last 3,000 yrs in Carnegie Canyon; of note was the recognition of the Caddo County paleosol, forming 2,050-1,050 yrs B.P. (Hall and Lintz, 1984; Lintz and Hall, 1983). Goss and others (1972), in reconstructing the geomorphic history of a segment of the Washita River valley, dated the A horizons of two soils buried within alluvium at 1,760 and 1,000 yrs B.P.
As part of an archeological reconnaissance on Fort Sill, a military reservation in southwestern Oklahoma, Hall (1978) detailed the late Quaternary stratigraphy and geomorphology of several small stream valleys. Although he noted terraces and a buried soil set in the context of three Holocene fills, no radiocarbon data were available. In Tesequite Creek of panhandle Oklahoma, Wilson (1972) observed buried soils and cut and fill sequences; tree stumps buried in situ were radiocarbon dated at an average of 474 yrs B.P. Johnson (1983) provided a geomorphic interpretation of the Jackfork River valley, southeastern Oklahoma, in the vicinity of the Bug Hill archeological site. A surface, the Jackfork terrace, was assigned an early- to middle-Holocene age.
The episodic nature of stream-system change has been graphically illustrated in studies by Knox (1976) and Wendland (1982). These two investigators used histograms and cumulative frequency distributions of radiocarbon dates to accentuate the discontinuities which occur within the alluvial record. Buried paleosols and terraces have long been recognized as indicators of the episodic change in stream systems. Paleosols, representing formerly stable surfaces, are particularly useful in identifying past periods of alluvial stability in that they are readily radiocarbon dated. It is these stable surfaces that form the basis of alluvial chronologies and will be focused upon in the following discussion.
In constructing alluvial chronologies, radiocarbon control is essential, although cultural data is useful in a corroborative capacity. To the best of the our knowledge, table 2 includes existing radiocarbon dates obtained from alluvium in valleys of the Kansas River and tributaries within Kansas. Distribution of radiocarbon dates is notably concentrated in the eastern (lower) portion of the Kansas River system (fig. 1). This is likely explained, at least in part, by the proximity of population centers, which include the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, and the construction of reservoirs on lower segments of the drainage system. The 13 sites recorded exhibit one to 18 radiocarbon dates and include the Late Pleistocene-Holocene transition (10,580 yrs B.P.) to the historic period (110 yrs B.P.). Focus is on the Kansas River system because, with the exception of two radiocarbon-controlled studies at East Branch Walnut River (Artz, 1983) and the Wichita Sand Pit site (Jaumann et al., 1985), other studies in the state do not provide sufficient time control. Studies from the Kansas River system within Kansas that provide radiocarbon-dated evidence of stable surfaces during Holocene time have been represented by a plot of the dates; fig. 2 illustrates the clusters of dates which comprise eight periods of apparent stability. With the data available, a period is defined by anywhere from one to five dates. Periods include 10,600 to 10,200, 8,900 to 8,300, 7,250, 5,100 to 5,000, 4,300 to 4,000, 2,600 to 2,400, 2,100 to 1,600, and 1,200 yrs B.P. A given period of stability may, and probably often does, represent more than one soil-forming period. At least two periods, 2,100 to 1,600 and 2,400 to 2,600 yrs B.P., are not clearly temporally distinct when one examines the individual radiocarbon dates: the sigma values of extreme dates nearly bridge the gap between these two periods. What is important is that about 2,600 to 1,600 yrs B.P. was a time characterized generally by stream and floodplain stability, not that it comprises one or two distinct periods.
Table 2--Radiocarbon Assays, Kansas River basin, Kansas.
|Stream site||Lab number||Age (RCYBP)||Source|
|TW||12 Mile Creek
(12 Mile Creek site)
|GX-5812-A (apatite)||10,435±260||bone (Bison antiquus)|
(Junction City site)
|BB||Big Blue River
(Meier sand pit)
|DIC-1760||1,670±55||wood (Platanus sp.)|
|DIC-1761||2,620±70||wood (Quercus sp.)|
|GX-5731||785±T30||wood (no id.)|
|DIC-3148||4,260±50||wood (Ulmus sp.)|
|DIC-3255||110±40||wood (Salix sp.)|
|WIS-1030||2,395±65||wood (Quercus sp.)|
|Beta-2160||5,030±90||wood (Alnus sp.)|
The degree of paleosol development, assessed by A1 thickness and organic-matter content is taken as a crude, but credible, indicator of length of time for formation, i.e., the duration of floodplain stability. Although the two measures can be affected by other factors such as level of biomass associated with the soil during its formation, truncation, and degree of post-burial oxidation, viable information is extractable. Table 3 provides a qualitative indication of the perceived degree of development and presumed length of surface stability. Thus the better developed the soil, the greater the spatial component should be. Well-developed soils are noted for 10,600 to 10,200, about 8,300, 5,100 to 5,000, 2,100 to 1,600, and 1,200 yrs ago. Periods of stability indicated by the radiocarbon data are further grouped by location within the drainage system (table 4): major valleys only, tributary valleys only, and valleys common to both. This categorization is admittedly subjective, but it provides an interesting result; some periods identified in the major valleys occur exclusively there, i.e., the same period, and have not yet been detected in tributaries. Either insufficient observations have been made in tributaries, no record remains of these deposits in tributaries, or these events did not occur within the tributary valleys. No periods of paleosol development are indicated for the tributaries exclusively. This would suggest that changes in the system occurred throughout its entirety. Three periods apparently common to both major and tributary valleys likely correspond to major events: the first period, which occurred about 10,600-10,200 yrs B.P., probably represents the last major time of stream stability prior to fluvial change that came about in response to the altered hydrologic regime signaling the end of the late Pleistocene. The second period, from 4,300 to 4,000 yrs B.P., is characterized by only moderate soil development, yet is apparently a pervasive event without any documented climatic association as with the former. The third period, from 2,100 to 1,600 yrs B.P., is characterized by strong soil development throughout the east-central Plains. Paleoclimatic and paleoecologic studies in the Southern Plains (Hall, 1982b; Hall and Lintz, 1984) indicate a marked increase in precipitation or effective moisture availability at approximately 2,000 yrs B.P. Although this exercise extends the data to its limit, some interesting insight into the Holocene alluvial history of the Kansas River system is provided and points to the potential for future endeavors.
Table 3--Degree of soil development for various periods of stability.
|Period of stability (RCYBP)||Relative paleosol development|
|8,900-8,300||weak (8,940 BP) strong (8,3 10 BP)|
Table 4--Time-space distribution of paleosols, RCYBP, Kansas River System.
Table 5 summarizes all presumed periods of stream stability for Kansas, including sites with and without radiocarbon data. Though little radiocarbon control exists for the Arkansas River and Osage River basin sites, they correlate well with the Kansas River system sites, particularly for the period about 2,600-1,600 yrs B.P. Sufficient data presently do not exist to permit speculation on the spatial significance of the 19,340 yrs B.P. date reported by Jaumann and others (1985) from Arkansas River alluvium near Wichita, Kansas.
Table 5--Periods of stream-system stability.
|Stream||Site/project name||Site number||Periods (yrs B.P.)1|
|Kansas River System|
|12 Mile Creek||12 Mile Creek||10,200-10,400|
|Deer Creek||1,900; 4,100|
|Wolf Creek||2,100; 10,600|
|Saline River||Wilson Lake||1,700; 5,100|
|Kansas River||Junction City||1,200|
|Big Blue River||Coffey||14PO1||ca. 2,300-2,000 (est.)|
|Kansas River||Wamego bend||7,300; 8,300|
|Kansas River||Meier sand pit||1,700; 2,600|
|Kansas River||Eudora bend||800|
|Kansas River||Bonner Springs||1,200; 2,400; 4,300; 5,000; 8,900; 10,400|
|Arkansas River System|
|Munkers Creek||William Young||14MO304||ca. 4,000-2,000 (est.)|
|Cedar Creek||14CS355||ca. 2,000-1,500 (est.)|
|Neosho River||ca. 1,000-500 (est.), 2,000 (est.)|
|Fall River||Bridwell||14GR38||ca. 2,000-1,500 (est.)|
|El Dorado Lake||ca. 2,000-1,500 (est.)|
|Arkansas River||Wichita sand pits||19,300|
|Osage River System|
|Marmaton River||Ft. Scott Lake||ca. 1,500-1,000 (est.)|
|1 Where present, radiocarbon dates rounded to nearest 100-yr interval.|
When the Holocene alluvial record of Kansas is compared with those of Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma, significant correlations are evident in the records. Despite the spatial and temporal distribution of the data, regional synchroneity is indisputable. In the Kansas River system record, soil formation is noted at 10,600 to 10,200 yrs B.P., in particular by humate dates of 10,580 and 10,430 yrs B.P. obtained from well-developed buried soils exposed along Wolf Creek and at the Bonner Springs site on the lower Kansas River, respectively. This period occurs during the late Pleistocene-Holocene transition in the Central Plains: a time of major atmospheric circulation shifts which resulted in dramatic hydrologic changes within the Central Plains, as well as elsewhere. This change in climate is well-documented for Kansas in vegetation records reconstructed via the pollen data from Muscotah Marsh (Gruger, 1973) and Sanders' well (Fredlund and Johnson, 1985). For a regional paleophytogeographic review, the reader is referred to Fredlund and Jaumann (this volume). Deposits and associated soils of such antiquity are apparently quite limited, perhaps because of the high potential for removal during the Holocene. However, one notable exposure occurs in the North Loup River system: Brice (1964) radiocarbon dated snail shells collected from the Coopers Canyon gley soil at 10,500 yrs B.P., a date that corresponds closely with those acquired in the Kansas River system. Ahlbrandt and others (1983) reported a date of 9,930 yrs B.P. from the base of a 2.1-m (6.9-ft)-thick accumulation of organic sands exposed within alluvium on the upper reaches of Whitetail Creek in west-central Nebraska. The stratigraphic record indicates stability and floodplain-soil formation ended in the Kansas River basin with renewed alluviation during the early Holocene. A period of pronounced alluviation is also recorded by Brakenridge (1981) for the Pomme de Terre River valley from 10,000 to 8,100 yrs B.P.
Although soil formation is indicated from 8,900 to 8,300 yrs B.P. within the Kansas River System, the recent end of that period, 8,310 yrs B.P., is characterized by strong soil development. On the North Loup River of central Nebraska, Brice (1964) obtained two radiocarbon dates of 9,000 and 8,400 yrs B.P. from peat beds buried at two separate localities within fill of the Elba terrace. Ahlbrandt and others (1983) dated organic accumulations in alluvial sands at 8,410 yrs B.P. from a site on the Dismal River, a tributary to the Middle Loup River. May (1985) obtained radiocarbon dates of 8,780 and 8,160 yrs B.P. from buried soils in fill from the South Loup River valley. Dates from the Loup River system sites correspond well with the 8,310 yrs B.P. date obtained on the lower Kansas River system. Subsequently, alluviation occurred within the Kansas River basin and apparently within the North Loup system. Evidence of instability elsewhere comes from the Pomme de Terre River valley where Brakenridge (1981) recognized an episode of erosion from about 8,100 to 7,500 yrs B.P. is recognized by Brakenridge (1981).
The soil-forming period about 7,250 yrs B.P., documented to date at only one locality in Kansas, has been corroborated by data from the Loup River system of Nebraska. Ahlbrandt and others (1983) radiocarbon dated organics in alluvial sands at 7,220 yrs B.P. May (1985) obtained radiocarbon dates of 7,750 and 7,110 yrs B.P. on soils buried within his fill IV on the South Loup River. With present data, the middle Holocene, here defined as 7,000-5,000 yrs B.P., is void of any indications of soil development within the Kansas River basin (fig. 2). Studies in the region suggest the middle Holocene was a time of stream-system instability, or at least low potential for strong soil development. At the Coffey site on the Big Blue River of northeastern Kansas, Schmits (1980) recorded aggradation at about 6,300 yrs B.P. and the development of a wide, shallow channel, indicative of a more arid hydrologic regime in the late Hypsithermal. Abler (1976) documented an episode of intense upland erosion at Rogers Shelter in the Pomme de Terre River valley of east-central Missouri. In the same valley, Brakenridge (1981) noted alluviation for a short period following about 7,500 yrs B.P. Of the ten radiocarbon dates Ahlbrandt and others (1983) reported from organic alluvial sands buried along the Middle Loup and Dismal rivers, none occurs within the period 7,000 to 5,000 yrs B.P., indicating a lack of stability and/or sufficient biomass for organic enrichment. Within fill at the Horn site on the South Loup River, which exhibits several buried soils, no discernable soil formation occurred from 7,100 to 4,780 yrs B.P. (May, personal communication, 1985).
Figure 2--Carbon 14-dated Holocene floodplains stability, Kansas River System.1
The concept of a middle Holocene (about 7,000-5,000 yrs B.P.) cultural hiatus on the Great Plains has become well-entrenched within the archeological literature. Of the various theories put forth to explain the hiatus (Reeves, 1973), fluvial erosion or aggradation sufficient to dramatically alter the record for the region during the interval 7,000-5,000 yrs B.P. is most pertinent here. The similarity in the alluvial stratigraphic record from eastern humid portions of the region to the more arid western areas, as well as with chronologies further afield (e.g., Knox et al., 1981), indicates that regionally anomalous erosion and deposition do not explain the hiatus. Rather, the increased dryness during the Altithermal was likely sufficient to reduce populations on the Plains (Wedel, 1961; Frison, 1975; Knox, 1978; Wendland, 1978).
The period 5,100 to 5,000 yrs B.P. was one of renewed soil formation on bottomlands within the Kansas River system. Corroborative evidence once again comes from the Loup River system of Nebraska where May (personal communication, 1985) obtained a radiocarbon date of 4,780 yrs B.P. on a buried A horizon at the Horn site. Three of the radiocarbon dates Ahlbrandt and others (1983) reported from organics within sandy alluvium on the Middle Loup and Dismal rivers occur around this time: 5,150, 5,040, and 4,900 yrs B.P. Mandel (1985) bracketed geomorphic stability and soil formation between 6,660 and 4,000 yrs B.P. in the Little Blue River of northwest Missouri.
Stream stability and soil formation dated about 4,300 to 4,000 yrs B.P. at four localities within the Kansas River system is not well-documented outside Kansas. Elsewhere within Kansas, Artz (1983) radiocarbon dated soil formation from about 4,000-2,000 yrs B.P. on the East Branch Walnut Creek; this period is, therefore, apparently correlative with the soil formation noted within the adjacent Kansas River basin. Although a period not yet recorded in Kansas, five radiocarbon dates ranging from 3,000-3,810 yrs B.P. are reported by Ahlbrandt and others (1983) for the Middle Loup and Dismal rivers. Further, May (1985) obtained an age of 3,030 yrs B.P. on bone collagen from within his fill III, i.e., not in apparent association with a former surface of stability.
Regardless of whether the soil formation indicated at 2,600 to 2,400 and 2,100 to 1,600 yrs B.P. (fig. 2) actually represents two discrete periods, extremely good indication for stability and soil formation is found elsewhere in the state of Kansas and adjoining Plains states. Within the Arkansas River system of Kansas, soil formation is indicated for this time at the Munkers Creek (Witty, 1982), Cedar Creek (Wood, 1977), Neosho River (Rogers, 1984), and Fall River (Johnson, 1971) sites, and for the East Branch Walnut Creek (Artz, 1983). A radiocarbon date of 2,200 yrs B.P. obtained on charcoal within Dry Creek, a tributary of the Medicine Creek of southwestern Nebraska (Brice, 1966), may perhaps indicate a period of stability. This also is the only radiocarbon-dated Holocene site in the Kansas River system within Nebraska. May (1985) documented the initiation of soil formation at 1,660 yrs B.P. in the South Loup River. The T1 deposits of the Little Blue River of northwest Missouri apparently stabilized between about 2,000 and 1,500 yrs B.P. (Mandel, 1985). Radiocarbon dates from charcoal situated in a cultural context above and below a buried soil indicate the latter formed between 3,000 and 1,500 yrs B.P. within the Osage River valley (Lees, Mandel, and Parker, 1982). A third study from Missouri, in the Perche-Hinkson River basins, proposed T1 surface stability between about 3,000 and 1,000 yrs B.P. (Mandel et al. 1985). Goss and others (1972) dated the lower of two buried soils at 1,700 yrs B.P. within the Washita River system of southwestern Oklahoma. A major stratigraphic unit, the Copan paleosol, has been documented throughout the upper Verdigris River basin (Hall, 1977a, 1977b; Reid and Artz, 1984). Formation of this well-developed soil occurred between 2,000 and 1,350 yrs B.P. A second major paleosol, the Caddo County paleosol, has been widely recognized in the canyons of the Washita River of southwestern Oklahoma. Dates on this soil range from 2,050 to 1,050 yrs B.P. (Hall, 1982a; Hall and Lintz, 1984; Lintz and Hall, 1983).
The most recent period of soil formation recognized in the Kansas River basin is about 1,200 yrs B.P. ascertained from radiocarbon dates of soil humates at two disparate localities. At least two localities elsewhere indicate contemporaneity. Based upon an estimate of the time for argillic-horizon development and archeological data, the T1 surface identified on the Marmaton River near Fort Scott, Kansas, stabilized 1,500-1,000 yrs B.P. (Schmits et al., 1983). Goss and others (1972) radiocarbon dated a buried soil at 1,000 yrs B.P. within the Washita River valley of south-western Oklahoma. No radiocarbon-dated sites for the last several hundred years which point directly to soil formation and/or long-term stability are in Kansas. Stability has been documented, however, at about 800 yrs B.P. in the South Loup River system of Nebraska (May, personal communication, 1985) and 600-400 yrs B.P. in Delaware Canyon, southwestern Oklahoma (Hall, 1982a).
When reviewing alluvial stratigraphic studies, several interpretive problems soon become apparent (table 6). With more concise and complete data reporting, interpretations will be more meaningful to others, especially when attempting to correlate among studies. Also, the precise location of documented sites is not always provided in order to facilitate examination by other interested parties. Since so few data exist and sites/exposures are frequently ephemeral, making locations recoverable is important.
Table 6--Correlation of alluvial stratigraphic investigations/interpretive problems.
|Precise location of documented sites not always provided|
|Existence of few complete Holocene stratigraphies|
|Inadequate stratigraphic description especially in archeological reports|
|Many studies without absolute-time control|
|Assumptions regarding ages of stratigraphic units from dated sections in drainage systems removed|
|Inconsistencies in radiocarbon-sample collection, especially from buried soils|
|Lack of uniformity in reporting radiocarbon data|
Few localities provide a stratigraphic record for the entire Holocene. The majority of studies provide a record only since middle to late Holocene time, or of a window on a portion of the Holocene. Inadequate stratigraphic description, especially in archeological studies, further limits potential interpretations. This shortcoming is rapidly being resolved by increased involvement of geomorphologists in archeological research, as reflected in part by creation of the new journal Geoarchaeology.
Major difficulties relate to radiocarbon dating of sediments. The obvious is a lack of radiocarbon control, although this has become less of a problem in recent years because of the ready availability of inexpensive assays from commercial laboratories and increasing access to the tandem accelerator mass-spectrometer method of dating (TAMS). In absence of radiocarbon control, assumptions have been made regarding ages of stratigraphic elements, particularly paleosols, through correlation with dated sections in other drainage systems, often far removed. Assumptions such as this, often poorly founded, become entrenched in the literature and re-emerge in subsequent research.
Inconsistencies in the collection of radiocarbon samples, especially from buried soils for humate dates, may lead to misinterpretations of the results by others. Humates from buried-paleosol A horizons are dated extensively; samples may be collected from the top, bottom, middle, or as a composite of the A horizon. Since up to 1,000 yrs, or more, could easily exist between dates from the top and bottom of the A horizon, researchers need to indicate the position of samples taken from soils. Dates derived from lower A-horizon samples would reflect the initiation of stability, whereas upper A-horizon samples would reflect the latter stages of stability. Also, a general lack of uniformity exists in reporting the laboratory basis of the assay: half-life used, if 13C-14C adjusted, and if calibrated. Half-life is least problematic in that commercial laboratories now use 5,568 yrs by international convention, although it is generally accepted that 5,730 yrs is a better estimate. Adjustment for 13C/14C aberrations (effects of isotopic fractionation) is becoming commonplace; studies should report both adjusted and unadjusted dates for the benefit of the reader. Several formulas are available for the calibration of both unadjusted and adjusted assays (e.g., Ralph et al., 1973; Damon et al., 1974; Klein et al., 1982; Stuiver, 1982). Calibration is more commonly reported in archeological studies and would likely serve no important purpose in alluvial studies until a standard calibration curve is adopted. Overall, the appreciation and correlation of alluvial stratigraphic studies would be greatly enhanced if radiocarbon control was reported in a uniform and concise fashion.
This discussion has demonstrated that, given the resolution and potential interpretative problems of available data, discernible synchroneity exists among periods of stability and soil formation within the east-central Plains states of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Although climate is the primary forcing function, the role of non-progressive internal changes must be considered in the alluvial record.
Climate's impact on stream-system behavior is generally accepted as being primary. The two basic models of Holocene climate are 1) the slow rise in temperature, broad peak (Altithermal), and slow decline to present (Antevs, 1955) and 2) a series of distinct episodes with abrupt transitions (Bryson and Wendland, 1967; Bryson et al., 1970; Wendland and Bryson, 1974). The latter is based upon the analysis of compiled, environmentally significant, radiocarbon dates; distinct episodes and abrupt transitions led to the adoption of the Blytt-Sernander environmental sequence of northwestern Europe. Because the model is derived from the observed stepwise behavior of atmospheric circulation, Knox (1976, 1983) and Wendland (1982) argue that climate, as the underlying determinant of fluvial behavior, will be mirrored in the alluvial record. They demonstrate the existence of distinct fluvial episodes on the basis of the temporal distribution of alluvial radiocarbon dates. Upon reviewing the Holocene vegetation record, Wright (1976), however, advised against adoption of a climatic model featuring distinct episodes separated by abrupt discontinuities. Hall (1982b) also notes that pollen and land-snail records from the Southern Plains indicate gradual, rather than abrupt, changes in climate. The reconciliation of these two apparently inconsistent models will soon come to pass because of ongoing research by many on the response of vegetation to Holocene changes in climate. Also, it must be borne in mind that stream systems are more sensitive to climatic shifts and respond far more quickly than vegetation.
Many researchers have lent support to the strong correlation between alluvial stratigraphy, or stream behavior, and episodic climate behavior. Among those, Baker and Penteado-Orellana (1977) associate shifts in climate with changes in river morphology and periods of incision and aggradation on the Colorado River of Texas. Brakenridge (1980, 1981) related the timing of aggradation, erosion, and stability within the Pomme de Terre River to synchronous changes in upper-atmospheric circulation patterns.
Schumm (1973, 1976, 1977) stressed that alluvial histories are complex due to the response of stream systems to both external events, such as climate change, and internal controls inherent to the evolving system. Thus, the erosion and deposition occurring within a system reflects, according to Schumm, the sequence of responses to the crossing of extrinsic and geomorphic (intrinsic) thresholds of stability. Further, the response to the crossing of a threshold can often be abrupt in nature (Schumm, 1973; Schumm and Kahn, 1972; Schumm and Parker, 1973; Patton and Schumm, 1975, 1981). The concepts of stream-system responses to either extrinsic or intrinsic controls are not mutually exclusive. Researchers are recognizing that major elements in alluvial records relate to climatic shifts, whereas geomorphic variables account for second order-changes or those occurring during climatically stable periods (Patton and Schumm, 1981; Knox, 1983; Waters, 1985).
To improve our understanding of stream response to intrinsic and extrinsic variables and the relationship with alluvial stratigraphy, the latter must be carefully examined and radiocarbon dated throughout the entire extent of drainage basins, i.e., all levels of the drainage hierarchy. Even though some research professes to have been basin-wide in extent, the study sites are often too widely distributed and may not consider tributary valleys, preventing one from evaluating any response differences which might exist between them and the main valley. Given the interpretive problems outlined above, we need a greater quantity and quality of data before the response of east-central Plains stream systems will be understood to the point where extrinsic and intrinsic parameters and time-transgressive elements can be sorted out. Toward this end, we and others are focusing resources on the Kansas River system, a large basin with many major tributaries and extending from semi-arid to humid environments.
A relatively rapid increase has taken place in the alluvial stratigraphic data base for the east-central Plains in recent years. A survey of available information for the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma produced nearly fifty sites, valley reaches, or stream systems that have been studied.
An examination of data from radiocarbon-documented sites for the Kansas River system in Kansas identifies several periods of stream stability: 10,600-10,200, 8,900-8,300, 7,250, 5,100-5,000, 4,300-4,000, 2,600- 2,400, 2,100-1,600, and 1,200 yrs B.P. These periods represent times of relative floodplain quiescence during which soils developed, in many instances to be subsequently buried and preserved for a time in the stratigraphic record. Qualitative analyses of the data suggest marked differences in the spatial extent and duration of the individual periods of stability. Definite times of stability have not yet been identified exclusively for tributary valleys: they have been realized in fill of either major valleys or major valleys and tributary valleys, i.e., both extremes of the system. Further, the duration of stable periods, as assessed by the relative degree of paleosol development, also varies appreciably from one period to the next. Those times of presumed long duration occur during the late Pleistocene-Holocene transition, 10,600-10,200 yrs B.P.; the middle Holocene, 5,100-5,000 yrs B.P.; and the late Holocene, 2,100-1,600 and 1,200 yrs BP.
When data from the adjoining states of Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma are correlated with the periods of stability extracted from the Kansas River system, unmistakable coincidence exists, indicating strong regional synchroneity in alluvial events. Other than the Kansas River system, only the Loup River system of Nebraska and Pomme de Terre River of Missouri provide data for the entire Holocene. Very good late Holocene data, however, come from northeastern and southwestern Oklahoma.
Problems of interpretation and correlation quickly emerge during a survey of data for the region. The bulk of these difficulties relate to the presentation of insufficient information for a full appreciation of the contribution to our knowledge of alluvial stratigraphy. The nature and relative small number of alluvial stratigraphic studies within the region do permit sufficient resolution to articulate the effects of episodic climate change on stream systems but do not allow a credible evaluation of the impact of geomorphic (intrinsic) variables on the alluvial record.
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Web version updated March 25, 2010. Original publication date 1987.