Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Human-created environmental changes in the Plains

Boyd, M. Surette, C. and Nicholson, B. A.
2006 Archaeobotanical Evidence of Prehistoric Maize (Zea mays) Consumption at the Northern Edge of the Great Plains. Journal of Archaeological Science 33 1129-1140

In this article the evidence of consumption of domesticated plants in the north-eastern limits of the Great Plains is analyzed. The main focus is on that of maize consumption in this area, additionally two areas that are used in this study are well reprehensive of the plains woodlands period, and have been subject to intensive archeological research. They are the Oak Lake Sandhills and Tiger Hills. It is theorized that sites that consumed maize and other domesticated plants were likely to also have a cultural affiliation to those cultures that were agriculturally intensive. Sites that were studied were found to have a large amount of tools made using Knife River Flint which is originated in North Dakota, however evidence of local gardening is either absent to rare in frequency. Further discoveries of some grinding stones imply that while the local growth of domesticates like maize were non-intensive if present the consumption of these domesticates may have been of a higher intensity through trade.

While little to no evidence of intensive agriculture is shown in the north-eastern limits of the plains region the presence and consumption of maize in this area was widespread. This dietary change was likely the result of trade with other cultures that were also located in the Great Plains region. This if true shows that the reliance on maize and other domesticates was not for only a sustainable practice but that of an economic practice also. Furthermore the evidence of this article demonstrates that domesticated plants may have had a concentrated area of planting but a wide range of consumption. This means that the area that was planted had a higher frequency and intensity of growing the domesticated crops. This would lead to greater stress on the environment and then lead to a change in the environment.

Michlovic, Michael G. and Schneider, Fred E.
1993 The Shea Site: A Prehistoric Fortified Village on the Northeastern Plains. Journal of Plains Anthropological Society 38 (143) 117-137.

In this article the Shea site in North Dakota is described in great detail. The site provides an intensive examination of what life could be like on the plains during the late prehistoric period. This is not to say that the conclusions drawn from this site can be generalized to all plains sites of this time period but that this is a site that can be generalized to at least a few other sites during this time period. The main reason for this site not being able to be generalized to all plains sites during this time period is that not all plains sites possess the same environment some are more likely to be used for more intensive agricultural practices than that of this site.

This article is important to the topic of human caused environmental change because it describes in detail a Plains site that is well fortified. This means that the environment around the site was changed quite a bit by the construction of these fortifications. Two of these fortifications include a large exterior ditch and regular postmolds near the interior edge of the ditch which are likely to be palisade made from wood. This means that the people of this site needed to cut down enough trees to build the palisade and needed to find a place for all of the displaced dirt that the exterior ditch. The construction of the ditch is estimated to have displaced around 1000 cubic meters of earth. These aspects along with the clearing of the area for the village inside of the ditch make for a fairly dramatic change in the environment around the site. Although the people of this site did not rely heavily on maize for sustenance the presence of cobs indicate that it was eaten and more importantly that it was likely grown nearby. While the people of this site had some domesticated plants the main source of sustenance was that of wild plants and game such as bison. While this method of sustenance does not have as large an impact on the environment, specifically soil nutrients and the disturbance of the soil, as that of intensive maize horticulture, it still has an effect on the environment. Such effects could be the control of bison population levels in the area, increases in the growth of wild plants that are consumed, and a decrease in the amount of these foods available to other species.

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