Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Macrobotanical Remains - The Plains

Schneider, Fred
2002 Prehistorical Horticultural in the Northeastern Plains, The Plains Anthropologist, vol. 47, No. 180:33-50.

This article explored the horticultural practices in the Northeastern Plains dating after 1200 CE.  Schneider looks at several sites in the area and compares and contrasts their plant findings done by earlier archaeologists while also looking at environmental conditions (which I will not discuss in this passage).  Throughout the sites discussed, there is evidence of maize kernels, cupules, cob fragments, sunflowers, scapula hoes, cache pits, and milling stones.  A possibility of squash and beans is also found in a few sites in the North Dakota sites.  Charred remains and discovery with the floating techniques are the major archaeological practices discussed. 

The conclusion seems to be that there was maize substance horticultural practice in the Northeastern Plains.  This is contrary to what Yarnell (1964) and Wedel (1961) believe.  While early archaeologists discounted the growing of maize, the author points out that earlier sampling methods, like sifting, were flawed and possibly missed numbers of seeds and macrobotanical remains.  It should be noted that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  Also, dating techniques have come a long way from where they were when Yarnell and Wedel were working.  These are just a few of the early anthropological theories in the area that Schneider systematically weakens. 

However, while there was maize being produced, the author states that it was more likely that the Plains Village peoples varied how much they cultivated from village to village.  The people were also hunting, although we still do not know if hunting and horticulture contributed equally to their diet.  The article also includes that research by Nickel (1977) suggests that wild plants were equally as important as cultivating maize.  Either way, the evidence (such as charred remains throughout various sites in the area) suggests that prehistoric, indigenous people in the Northeastern Plains from about 1200-1805 CE cultivated maize.

References Cited:

Nickel,  R. K.
1977 The Study of Archaeologically Derived Plant Materials From the Middle Missouri Subarea, Trends in the Middle Missouri Prehistory: A Festschirft Honoring the Controbutions of Donal J. Lehmer, edited by W. R. Woods, pp. 53-58. Plains Anthropologist Memoir 13.

Wedel, W. R.
1961  Prehistoric Man on the Great Plains. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.

Yarnell, R. A.
1964  Aboriginal Relationships Between Culture and Plant Life in the Upper Great Lakes Region. Anthropological Papers No. 23, Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, MI.

Drass, Richard R.
2008  Corn, Beans and Bison: Cultivated Plants and Changing Economies of the Late Prehistoric Villagers on the Plains of Oklahoma and Northwest Texas, The Plains Anthropologist, vol. 53, no. 205:7-31.

In this article Drass addresses the use of plants among the Plains Villagers in western Oklahoma and northwestern Texas.  It examines the paleobotanical remains of the last 1,000 years the roles plants had in the societies.  The author breaks the article into sections including ethnographic studies, wild plant remains, cultivated plant remains, habitat selection, and a summary.  He not only utilizes the archaeological record of the area but also looks at primary documents from early Spanish explores and compares what they recorded to the physical findings.  Again, this author is using the information from charred remains and from seeds recovered from sites doing standard excavations and floating samples. Now it seems that sites that use the flotation method get a greater diversity of plant remains so while new techniques become more widely used, data might be skewed a bit.  It seems that evidence of plant food during the earlier Woodland and Late Archaic period is minimal.

Under wild plants the most common plants are goosefoot, purslane, sunflower, ragweed, and marshelder.  Some locations also have cactus remains along with fruits such as grape, plum, sumac, cherry, chokecherry, and passionflower.  What plants are found where very from site to site.  These are evidence that the people were only relying on horticulture or hunting and that they were also gathering local plants.

The cultivated plants included maize, beans, squash, possibly sunflower and marshelder, other small domesticates, and tobacco.  Maize seemed to have been the most significant crop as early as 900-920 CE and came in several types.  However, there is evidence of a decrease in maize around 1500 CE, which is suspected to be caused by a change in climate.  Maize continues to be a part of their diet and it is suggested that it is imported from other areas.  With this decrease a focus on the bison population occurred.  Beans, squash, and tobacco were referenced in early writings from explorers.  There is some evidence of beans and squash but the process in which they were cooked has made it somewhat hard to find them in the archaeological record.  There are still some examples.  Tobacco seeds have been found in some areas but since the seeds are so small they are easy to miss.

Over all it is concluded that there was a lot of horticulture and plant domestication in this Plains Villager region along with wild plant gathering.  It is suggested that a climate shift decreased production (but did not eliminate it) and caused a shift to more bison hunting.  There is still a lot of room for investigation in this region, especially after 1500 CE when their sedentary lives changed.

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