The challenge of climate to man



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: [Correction to “The challenge of climate” by Alan D. Hecht] “Climate Challenge” update Volume 63, Issue 20, 505, Article first published online: 18 May 1982


Around 900 A.D. a group of small villages was established in northwest Iowa by Indians of what we now call the Mill Creek culture. Around 1400 A.D., after many prosperous years, the villages were abandoned. In the summer of 1963, archeological and geological excavations of several sites of the Mill Creek culture began. While three major sites were excavated, one known as Phipps site provided the clearest historical record of civilization in the area. To reconstruct both the habits of the Mill Creek people and the environment in which they lived, scientists have studied a wide assortment of remains preserved in the strata of northwestern Iowa. Unnoticed without the aid of a microscope are the remains of pollen grains blown into the area from surrounding trees. The pollen preserved in the strata can be read as an historic log of changes in the vegetation and climate surrounding the Mill Creek area. The village was occupied about 900 A.D. on the flood plain of Mill Creek. The pollen evidence shows that during the 10th and 11th centuries, the Indians lived in a region with tall-grass prairie on the uplands and woods on the valley terraces and valley floors. This vegetation is not very different from today's if one substitutes ‘cornfield’ for ‘prairie.’ From evidence given by fossil bones found in the strata, it seems that deer and elk were abundant and were hunted by these Indians. The Indian meat diet appears to have been dominated by these animals, supplemented only occasionally by bison. Maize was the main agricultural product.