Thursday, February 23, 2012

Human-created environmental changes 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

Smith’s article systematically refutes claims that the Woodlands in the Eastern North American area was not a independent center for domestication. This is done by examining four domesticated plants that are typically thought as woodlands domesticates in as many parts. The first part is that of the examination of marshelder (Iva annua). Smith writes that recent studies suggest that marshelder was originally introduced to eastern North America via Mexico (12223). Smith goes on to explain that marshelder remains have been found in no archeological context in Mexico. This is in contrast to the vast amount of wild marshelder seeds and achenes being recovered from abundant woodland sites. The next domesticate that is focused on is chenopod (Chenopodium berlandieri). Smith states that wild chenopod was harvested as early as 8500 B.P. (12225). Thin-testa (seed coat) fruit that represents a domesticated version of chenopod was dated to 3400+ 150 B.P. at both Cloudsplitter and Newt Kash rockshelters. Smith then mentions that while wild chenopod is found in sites in Mexico there is as of yet no evidence of the thin-testa domesticates in Mexican sites. The third domesticate discussed is Squash (Cucurbita pepo). While some subspecies have been identified as being domesticated in Mexico, another subspecies has an association with being domesticated in the woodlands, specifically ovifera. The fourth and last domesticate that is discussed by Smith is that of sunflower (Helianthus annuus). The major dispute of this domestication is that of the San Andres specimen that is sunflower seed shaped but lacks key identifying information. This lack of identifying information makes it impossible to properly classify the specimen. Therefore Smith’s conclusion is that of the evidence of an Eastern North American center for domestication is one that makes logical sense.
This article is important because it shows the evidence that a Eastern North American center of domestication center exists holds up against the claims that the domesticated species originated in Mexico. This is important for understanding trade networks, sustenance resources, and the spread of culture.

Beaubien, Paul L.
1953 Cultural Variation within two woodland Mound Groups of Northeastern Iowa. American Antiquity Vol. 19 No. 1:56-66

In his article Beaubien discusses three different sites that contain mounds. The first and most extensively described site is that of the Sny-Magill mound group. This site is located six miles south of McGregor, Iowa, and a half mile north of the Sny-Magill Creek and sloughs of the Mississippi junction (56). The site is home to a group of 96 mounds; of those four were chosen for excavation in the spring of 1952. The chosen mounds were the largest conical mound, a bird effigy mound, a conical mound representing the smallest size, and a conical mound of intermediate size (57). Artifacts of note in these mounds include human bones in various group sizes and condition (some bones were broken and likely moved by rodents), copper beads in varied conditions, projectile points made of chert, lanceolate blades, a quartzite flake, charcoal and pottery sherds. The next site that is discussed is that of the Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is located 10 miles north of the Sny-Magill group on the western bank of the Mississippi. The number of mounds that are present at the site is 62 mounds with at least 55 others that have been destroyed (63). Eight mounds were examined in 1949. The artifacts found at this site were charcoal, evidence of partial cremations; bear canine ornaments, large flint blades of the hopewellian type, evidence of secondary burials and a copper breastplate (63). The last site that is discussed is that of the Hanging Rock site located 1.25 miles north of the yellow river (64). The major artifacts of note from this site are pottery sherds bearing incised-over=cord-roughened decoration similar to the Black Sand Incised Middle Woodland (65). Beaubien’s conclusions are that it is very difficult if not impossible to establish developmental sequences within the wide time span in which the materials suggest. As a result it is unclear as to whether there has been cultural fusion or if more likely the mounds were used and built by multiple peoples.

This article is important because it showcases three distinct sites that show a wide range of verity in what they contain and when they were made. This gives the reader a sense that not all mounds are the same and are classified as different styles. This allows for greater knowledge of the variability of the great earthworks of the woodlands region.


  1. I find it very interesting that your Bruce Smith article discusses domestication in the Woodlands. What stands out particularly is that he discusses the same c. pepo cucurbit that is discussed in my Hart and Sidell article. In the Hart and Sidell article they talk about how there are some c. pepo cucurbits in Mexico that are similar to the ones found in the woodlands. However, when studied closely there are some genetic differences between them that suggest they were not from the same domestication. It is also suggested that they could not have traveled such a distance and grow so successfully in such a different climate. It is really nice to see that this theory is being backed up and solidified by other researchers.
    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.

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  3. I found the first article in this bibliography quite intriguing. I feel there is more to be learned by studying past methods of plant uses. Which I feel could help to refine our current understanding of past peoples in North and South America in multiple ways.
    One way being to help to delineate the growing network of relationships beginning as long ago as the late paleoindian and early archaic periods, and continuing to develop into a more and more complex set regional and possibly transregional economies. The significance of understanding how plant resources use intensively have spread could be indicative of information exchange along with preferred goods.
    Other potentially important questions about human migration, settlement patterns, and subsistence habits that could be studied by examining specific plants amid early North American settlements would be; examining the extent to which early human activities have impacted early environments and ecosystems, assessing how much of this change was a biproduct of other activities, and whether there is any evidence that thess changes in vegetation were deliberate induced?

  4. One thing in your conclusion of Beaubien’s article that struck me is that you mention that is it is unclear to whether the mounds were built by one group of people or several. The uncertainty in knowledge of if one group of people or several different groups of peoples as well as the ambiguity of the developmental sequences of the mounds relates to my article on Monks Mound by Collins and Chalfant (1993). In this article, the authors examine why a terrace on Monks Mound dips. Past archaeologists have hypothesized that it dips on purpose, was caused by accident due to the process of erosion, or the terrace has an incomplete construction. Collins and Chalfant believe that the dip is due to the process of slumping; however, there are previous archaeologists who studied the mound that would disagree. Ambiguity is one of the things about archaeology in general that irritates me. Research on anything from human effects on the environment, architecture, or whatever the topic, there is bound to be indeterminate aspects. Some things we will never know for sure.

    Collins, James M. and Chalfant, Michael L.
    1993 A second-Terrace Perspective on Monk’s Mound. American Antiquity 58: 319-332.