Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Macrobotanical Remains: The Southeast

Gremillion, Kristen J.
1998 Changing Roles of Wild and Cultivated Plant Resources Among Early Farmers of Eastern Kentucky, Southeastern Archaeology, vol. 17, No. 2:140-157.

        Kristen J. Gremillion’s article on wild and cultivated plants in Eastern Kentucky suggests a shift towards seed crops, mast collecting, and possibly even domestication.  The context of much of the article is researching plant remains from around 1000 BCE or the Terminal Archaic to Late Woodland.  One of the most numerous plant remains found is hickory.  She suggests that they were able to collect more hickory and shift a focus to it because they had other foods to sustain them.  Data that supports a growth in cultivation and domestication would be preserved organic material in the archaeological record, wood and fiber artifacts, paleofece, and plant remains.  The major sites discussed are Newt Kash, Rogers, Cold Oak, Thor’s Hammer, Cloudsplitter, and Haystack rockshelters (which had some vandalism that has made dating difficult).

        Gremillion suggests that after 800-1000 BCE, cultivated plants became more relied on. There was an increase in starchy and oily plant remains.  Evidence to support that would be more hearths, cooking features, postholes, and storage pits in the strata.  The strata were divided into three zones, I, II, and III, each representing a different time period and the development of cultivated plants.  The main tool used to represent and interpret the data was boxplots.

        The main mast resource was hickory although acorns, chestnuts, walnuts, and butternuts.  Acorns and chestnuts became less popular over time as hickory became more popular.  There were also several cultivated plants found in Cloudspitter and Cold Oak.  These included sunflower, sumpweed, squash, maygrass, knotweed, amaranth, and giant ragweed.  Cultivated plants increased and in some cases showed signs of domestication.  However, there was evidence to suggest that not all popular plants became domesticated when looking at their morphology.  Overall, the information suggests that there was a huge increase in foraging around 1000 BCE in the Eastern Kentucky area that raised specialization in hickory and cultivating, and sometimes domesticating, plants.

Fritz, Gayle J. and Tristram R. Kidder
1993  Recent Investigations Into Prehistoric Agriculture in the Lower Mississippi Valley, Southeastern Archaeology, vol. 12, No. 1:1-14.

         In this article, Fritz and Kidder argue that the Lower Mississippi Valley people were not as agriculturally inclined as previously believed.  They state that “until the past few years, most anthropologists assumed that intensified maize a agriculture was established no later that the early Coles Creek period, or approximately 700-900 CE.”  They go on to argue that while there might be some evidence of agriculture, many anthropologists are giving the archaeological record too much faith.  Most thought that since there were large earthen works, there must have been agriculture to sustain the people that made them.  However, that is not exactly what the archaeological record suggests.

          Some archaeologists (Kidder 1992) suggested that maize agriculture was established in the Coles Creek period.  However, when one looks at the data used, there is scant evidence at best suggesting wide spread maize cultivation.  Maize was not a requirement for Coles Creek society.  In general there just is not a lot of data that suggests there was a huge maize culture.  There are spotty finds here and there but archaeologists have been under the impression that it was perhaps not preserved well due to the wet climate of the area.  That being said, Fritz and Kidder do not believe that because there is a lack of evidence that there was not a maize culture.  They seem to be reminding everyone not to get ahead of themselves.

       There was one report that squash, particularly C. pepo L. was independently domesticated in the area.  The species is similar to a wild species in the area.  More investigations of the seeds and rinds need to be conducted for more conclusive answer.  Only sunflower and sumpweed were clear domesticates in the area.  Mostly, however, plants were cultivated.  The main form of dating these remains was stratigraphy and radiocarbon dating. 

       The overall theme of the article was that the Lower Mississippi Valley culture might not be as large of a domesticating center as believed.  It appears that although the societies seem complex, they were largely sustained on undomesticated food sources.  Fritz and Kidder as for a deeper analysis of the relationship between cultural and natural variables and continued search for evidence of strong domestication in the Lower Mississippi Valley before 1100 CE.

Work Cited:

Kidder, Tristram R.
1992 Timing and Consequences of the Introduction of Maize Agriculture in the Lower Mississippi Valley. North American Archaeologist, vol. 3, No. l:15-42.

1 comment:

  1. That is fascinating that hickory nuts were considered so important when walnuts have a slightly higher caloric value. Did it say anything about the availability of walnuts? I understand the decrease in popularity in the acorns due to the bitterness of them and the long process to make them edible even though they have a high amount of calories. In terms of why Hickory nuts versus walnuts is interesting because while they should be about the same amount of work both to gather the nuts and then process them by cracking them then I would think that walnuts would be preferred. That is of course unless availability was and issue or perhaps taste? I would be very interested in any other information that was presented for the preference of hickory nuts.