Thursday, February 23, 2012

Botanical Remains: Woodlands


Hart, John P., Nancy Asch Sidell
1997 Additional Evidence for Early Cucurbit Use in the Northern Eastern Woodlands East of the Allegheny Front, American Antiquity, Vol. 62, No. 3:523-537.

The topic of this article is the unearthing of evidence that cucurbit remains found in the Northern Eastern Woodlands during the Mid-Holocene and Early Late Holocene.  What this means is that the use of domesticated cucurbits (gourds, squash, and pumpkin) can be found in the area far earlier than previously believed.  This also suggests that cucurbits were domesticated in the Eastern Woodlands and independent of their domestication in Mexico.  The article explains where the cucurbits were found, many of the dating procedures used, and argues against other possible explanations as to why they are found in this area.

Located just east of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania in the flood plains of the Susquehanna River, the site discussed is called Memorial Park.  The materials were extracted using flotation methods.  In the Mid-Holocene part of the site they found two small,  thin c. pepo rinds.  This suggests that this type of cucurbit was in the area although the size does not mean domestication.  There are three explanations other than being grown there that they authors describe and dismiss.  The first is that it was traded in but it is not the same cell structure as the cucurbits from elsewhere.  The second is that it is a southern c. pepo and that it just spread up there but the authors conclude that the climate could not have supported that kind of expansion.  Finally, the third explanation is that they got there by growing without human help but they could not have moved around as they did with out human intervention.

In the Early Late Holocene the cucurbits of the area are large and in more locations suggesting domestication.  This is the earliest evidence of use of domestic plants in the Northeast.  This also explains why early settlers noticed domestication of plants in the area when they arrived and that it did not pop up out of nowhere.  The authors conclude with saying that this is probably not the only site with cucurbits in the area and that more research needs to be conducted.

Wright, Patti Jo
2003 Paleobotanical Analysis, The Plains Anthropologist, Vol. 48, No. 188:51-57.

This article is an in-depth analysis of paleoethnobotanical remains found in the Central Missouri Late Woodlands region.  The analysis is of a variety of sites including the Stauffer site, a site in the American bottom in Illinois, and Bridgeton Site.  Native domesticates are very present in the sites but the analysis is also looking at other forms of plant life that can be found.  The main technique that was used to collect the material was a floating system.  Wright also describes the procedures and dating techniques that were used on the material collected.

The fist assemblage collected over 23,927 specimens.  With that in mind, remember that specimens were nutshells, bark, wood, grass stem, fungal tissue, and even squash rinds (although there is very little evidence of squash).  The appearance of the squash is similar to the species and locations of the cucurbits discussed in the Hart and Sidell (1997) article.  It is said that identifying exact species was not always possible but the few rinds they did find seem to correlate with the findings of  Hart and Sidell (1997). It cannot be determining if the rinds were more utilitarian or a food source.  The inclusion of fungal tissue and some rotting wood suggests that there was collecting of plant life from the forest floor. Also, there is evidence of domestication in the assemblage of C. berlandieri because of their reduced thickness of the testa, smooth testa, truncated margin, and prominent beak.

There were some carbonized seeds found which is in line with other sites in the area.  The seeds were starchy seeds, oily domesticates, grass seers , noncultivated seeds, and more.  It is hard to get a good representation of all of them because the way in which they were processed seems to vary.  There were sunflower seeds as well and indications of the use of a domesticated marshelder.  Wright points out that though there is little evidence of the domesticated marshelder, it does not suggest little use.  Also, there is evidence of the use of z. mays being used in the area.  This represents the earliest use of z. mays in Central Missouri (605 CE).

Over all, the article explains the various types of plant life and seeds that have been found in sites throughout the Central Missouri area during the Late Woodlands.  Many of the plants are either in the stages of domestication of fully domesticated.  The evidence of nuts and nutshells suggest that they were still gathering or that the nuts fell into the sites because there were many trees in the area.  Wright suggests that there be more research and careful collecting of the data for further analysis.

Work Cited:

Hart, John P., Nancy Asch Sidell
1997 Additional Evidence for Early Cucurbit Use in the Northern Eastern Woodlands East of the Allegheny Front, American Antiquity, Vol. 62, No. 3:523-537.

1 comment:

  1. I find the results of Hart and Sidell's article interesting. This is mainly due to how the article that I read on plant domestication specifically defended that species as being an independent domesticate of the northeastern area (Smith). It is nice to see that other articles offer at least in part further support of the woodlands being an independent area of domestication. I would be interested to know if Hart and Sidell had access to the seeds of the specimen that the thin rinds came from to see if the seeds are larger indicating that domestication occurred. Furthermore did Hart and Sidell specify a subspecies that of Cucurbita pepo like ovifera or did they just mention it as Cucurbita pepo? It would be interesting if there are two subspecies domesticated in the woodlands.
    Smith, Bruce D.
    2006 Eastern North America as an independent center of plant domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Vlo. 103 No. 33: 12223-12228

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