Thursday, April 5, 2012

Macrobotanial Remains: The Southwest


Barlow, Renee K.
2002 Predicting Maize Agriculture among the Fremont: An Economic Comparison of Farming and Foraging in American Southwest, American Antiquity, vol. 67, No. 1:65-88.

        This article explores the costs and benefits of agriculture versus foraging in the American Southwest.  It is looking at the Fremont people, located at the northern most part of the southwest in Utah, eastern Nevada, and southern Idaho.  Renee Barlow is examining material remains from the farmers and horticulturalists in the area.  Material remains include decorative ceramics, projectile points, baskets, manos and metates, moccasins, clay figurines, rock-art, headdresses, necklaces, and earrings.

        Corn cobs dating from 100-500 CE have been found in the area.  It can be suggested that maize was a major crop in the area but distinctive Fremont assemblages did not become major until some 600 years after maize introduction.  Some evidence of irrigation also suggests intensive agriculture and the material and macrobotanical evidence suggests that maize agriculture was significant in the area.  However, the material culture also suggests a diversity of importance on maize farming and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.  It is hard to interpret the data because the ecology of the region and the role of migration, local adaption, and diffusion of technology have a lot of influence on the archaeological record.

        Barlow discusses the interpretation that the Fremont people were Puebloian and were a mix between maize horticulturalists and hunter-gatherers.  Once the cost of foraging began to outweigh maize production, the people moved more towards maize with an increase in sedentism around 700-1100 CE.  So, Barlow believes that even though the people were growing maize and using the crops, they were still foraging and hunting to supplement their diet.  While the people had architecture and small villages, they were not completely dependant and agriculture and maize production at this time.  The evidence does suggest a steady increase to maize dependency not only found in macrobotanical remains but by looking at bone structure, ceramics, and an increase in sedentism.


Hard, Robert J., Raymond P. Mauldin, Gerry R. Raymond
1996  Manos Size, Stable Carbon Isotope Ratios, and Macrobotanical Remains as Multiple Lines of Evidence of Maize Dependence in the American Southwest, Journals of Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. 3, No. 3:253-318.

        This article does an in depth analysis on manos size, a stable carbon isotope ratios and macrobotanical remains as evidence of maize use in the southwest.  Even though some say that maize production had not been major until the first millennium, there are excavations with maize as early as 500 BCE.  Hard, Mauldin, and Raymond took information from 6 regions (Black Mesa, Cedar Mesa, Mesa Verde, Southern Jornada, Antelope Creek, and Sierra Blanca) and 16 phases in the southwest to conduct an over all analysis of the southwest.  They found that manos size and maize ubiquity could be ordinal measurements of agricultural dependency.  Isotope ratios can only tell if there was a little or substantial maize use.  Their results indicate that there are three major patterns in the adoption of farming in the area.  One is “early substantial use followed by continuous increasing maize dependency.”(p. 253) The second and third are “initial intensive dependence with little change in later periods and a long period of minor use followed by substantial dependence.”(p. 253)  This bibliography will focus on their findings of macrobotanical remains.

        The main ways they collect their remains is from flotation and coprolite samples.  When using flotation they would often recover charred seeds.  They take into account the precise conditions that are needed to collect good plant remains.  Structures that were burned in use are often great places to find plant remains.  The study of coprolite, or human feces, is also highlighted as a great source of data for learning more about human diet.  They are also aware of the bias that some material is lost in the digestion process.

        Their findings suggest that there is a strong relationship between the ubiquity of maize and manos area.  They eliminated places that had strong indications of hunter-gatherer societies with maize production to eliminate an indication of correlation between manos and the absences or presences of farming  Their conclusion is that the timing of maize production is different from region to region and that manos size is related to maize utilization but other variables may affect the correlation. 

1 comment:

  1. I find the dichotomy between the ways of finding the corn remains interesting. In the first article, you only mention whole cobs, whereas in the second one you mention charred kernels and fossilized excrement. I would be curious to know if finding whole cobs is the norm, or if charred seeds are the major source. Perhaps the first article only mentions cobs because it goes into so much depth on things that imply corn cobs, such as the irrigation canals that my article goes into great depth on. It would be interesting to do a comparative dating study on floral remains, such as the charred seeds, and the extra-botanical sources, such as farming implements or irrigation canals.

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