Thursday, April 5, 2012

Faunal Remains: The Southwest

Badenhorst, Shaw and Jonathan Driver.
2009 Faunal Changes in Farming Communities from Basketmaker II to Pueblo III (A.D. 1-1300) in the San Juan Basin of the American Southwest. Journal of Archaeological Science 36: 1832-1841.

     This article examines faunal assemblages from the San Juan Basin in the American Southwest. The authors compiled data collected from the Basketmaker II to Pueblo III period in an attempt to understand changes in animal use over time. Artiodactyls (deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, elk, and bison), lagomorphs (cottontails and jackrabbits), and turkeys were the most common meat sources during this time frame, so this study was limited to these groups. The authors found that over time, artiodactyl use decreased in relation to lagomorph use. Conversely, turkeys increased over time in relation to lagomorphs. Finally, they found that cottontail use increased over time when compared to jackrabbits.
     The authors propose a number of explanations for the patterns seen in these faunal assemblages. According to them, there are three major factors that affect game availability: the natural environment, human modifications to the environment, and the direct human exploitation of plant and animal resources. Artiodactyls would have been the preferred game due to their size; this, however, led to the overexploitation of these animals which resulted in population declines. Badenhorst and Driver suggest that this decline in artiodactyl availability cause the people to turn to turkey as a reliable meat source. They propose multiple reasons for the increase in cottontail use over time. First, agriculture would have created a more favorable environment for cottontails over jackrabbits, so the increase in cottontails is a reflection of local population changes. In addition, people may have turned to cottontails because of their high rate of replenishment; artiodactyls were becoming scarce, so they began hunting a meat source that reproduces quickly and won't suffer a decline in population. Finally, they suggest that the high occurrence of cottontails could reflect garden hunting; the cottontails were attracted to the gardens for food, and the people killed them either because they were easily accessible or because they would destroy the crops. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that artiodactyl use decreased while cottontail and turkey use increased between the Basketmaker II and Pueblo III periods.

Szuter, Christine.  
1991 Hunting by Hohokam Desert Farmers. Kiva 56: 277-291.

     This article examines the multiple hunting strategies employed by the Hohokam, and looks at how these strategies changed over time. The Hohokam lived in the Sonoran desert in south-central Arizona, and are one of the groups that have been called "desert farmers." However, Szuter dislikes this term because it implies that Hohokam subsistence consisted only of farming. In fact, the Hohokam exploited a variety of animals, including birds, rodents, cottontails, jackrabbits, deer, and bighorn sheep. Based on the remains, artiodactyls were the most valued meat source. Artiodactyl bones were treated in a special manner; they were kept from dogs, and were sometimes made into tools or headdresses. Despite the evident preference for large game animals, small- to medium-sized animals were the most frequently exploited.  
     The author suggests that the pattern of Hohokam hunting is a reflection of the way in which the Hohokam modified the environment. Hohokam agriculture and architecture created a favorable environment for rodents; therefore, the people ate more rodents because they were easily accessible. In addition, the use of cottontails and jackrabbits varied between sites with different levels of occupation. In villages with higher populations, more wood was needed and therefore there was a higher level of deforestation than seen in farmsteads. Jackrabbits prefer more open habitat, whereas cottontails like more brush; therefore, jackrabbits are found in higher numbers and are exploited more in areas with higher human environmental modifications. Irrigation canals are associated with a variety of faunal remains, including birds, rodents, beavers, muskrats, and low oxygen-requiring fish. With all of these easily accessible resources, it is not surprising that the Hohokam relied more heavily on small- to medium-sized animals. Hunting artiodactyls required planning and long trips, while smaller animals were easily obtained. In addition, the heavy use of local small animals could reflect garden hunting. Based on these analyses, the author concludes that Hohokam hunting strategy depended largely on the level of human modification on the environment, because modifications dictated the composition the local animal population.       
















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