Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Faunal Remains: The Southeast

Jackson, Edwin H.  and Susan L. Scott.
2001 Archaic Faunal Utilization in the Louisiana Bottomlands. Southeastern Archaeology 20: 187-196.

     This article examines faunal remains from two riverine Middle Archaic sites in the Louisiana Bottomlands, the Conly (6500-8000 bp) and Watson Brake (5000-5500 bp) sites. Both sites contained a wide variety of animal remains, including raccoon, mink, otter, turtles, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, deer, and fish. However, the composition of the faunal remains suggests that fish and deer were the most heavily exploited meat sources. Mole and small frog remains were also present at these sites, but they were most likely used for things other than as meat source. One significant difference between these sites is the presence of waterfowl at Watson Brake. This is most likely a reflection of the site's closer proximity to the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route that follows the Mississippi River. Both sites exploit a variety of animals, but they only exploit those that are locally available. The authors conclude that Middle Archaic peoples in the southeast focused mainly on deer and fish, but supplemented their diet with a large variety of other local animals.
     The authors compare these two sites to the Copes site, a Poverty Point period (Late Archaic/Early Woodland) site in the alluvial valley of the Mississippi River. Similar to the Conly and Watson Brake sites, the Copes site has a  variety of faunal remains. However, the faunal assemblage is not as diverse as those from either of the two Middle Archaic sites. Fishing seems to be a major focus of the Copes site. The authors suggest that Mid-Holocene climate changes may have negatively affected upland resources, shifting the forests from mixed pine and deciduous to southern pine forests. Floodplains would have been more stable habitats, and therefore alluvial valleys would have high concentrations of resources. This led groups to become more focused on aquatic resources such as fish.  The reliance on riverine resources also encouraged sedentism, as fishing was a local, predictable activity.  In addition, the surrounding habitat supported supplemental resources such as nut-bearing oaks and hickories, as well as higher animal populations than the uplands. The sedentism and resource focus are some of the factors that led to the increasing complexity of societies in the southeast.

Pavao-Zuckerman, Barnet.
2000 Vertebrate Subsistence in the Mississippian-Historic Tradition. Southeastern Archaeology 19: 135-144.

     In this article, the author examines faunal remains from various sites in the southeast that were occupied during the transition from the Mississippian to the Historic period. The sites range from no contact to extensive European contact, and various environments are represented. However, some general statements about subsistence can be made. First, in every case the people utilized a wide variety of animals that were locally available (turtles, rabbit, squirrel, etc.). Secondly, deer was an important part of the diet for every site in this sample. And lastly, fish was also a major component of the diet, especially in coastal environments. As contact with Europeans increased, domestic animals such as pigs, cattle, and chickens. However, these animals did not contribute in a major way to the diet of indigenous societies.
     Although the introduction of domestic animals did not impact subsistence strategies of the indigenous societies, European contact did affect their diet in a different way. European demand for leather was high, and therefore the indigenous peoples (particularly the Creeks) exploited deer more extensively. Because they were killing more deer, they likely ate more venison than they had before contact. But, other than a slight increase in venison consumption, the author concludes that subsistence showed remarkable continuity from the Mississippian period through the transition to the Historic period.
       The author proposes a possible explanation as to why subsistence stayed the same as it was prior to European contact (in the absence of European pressure to change). During the Mississippian-Historic transition there was a lot of upheaval and uncertainty caused by conflict, disease, and introduction to new technologies. In this time of turmoil, societies may have held on to the traditions and ideals that were the most practically and symbolically important to them. Adequate sustenance is vital to their survival, and therefore they continued to get food in the way they knew was successful. Whatever the reason, despite European contact it is clear that overall, subsistence changed very little in the southeast during the Mississippian-Historic transition.   

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