Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Northwest Coast: Plant Remains

Lepofsky, Dana, Madonna L. Moss, Natasha Lyons
2001  The Unrealized Potential of Paleoethnobotany in the Archaeology of Northwestern North America: Perspectives from Cape Paddington, Alaska, Arctic Anthropology, vol. 38, No.1:48-59

        This article explores the use of paleoethnobotany in the northwest.  Since agriculture was never really established in the area, plant remains tend to be neglected by archaeologist doing research in the area.  There tends to be smaller sample sizes and context can be hard to establish.  The authors argue that the research potential of plant remains in the northwest is not widely acknowledged but can be just as useful as other material remains.  The five misconceptions about plant remains in the northwest that the authors list are that plants do not play an important role in the economies of the region, nothing of interest can be learned from plant remains because they do not document daily life, plant remains do not preserve well in the area, plants that deposit naturally cannot be distinguished from plants that are deposited by people, and plant research is labor intensive and expensive. 
        The authors systematically poke holes in all of these arguments and used the 49 – CRG – 188 site ( Cape Paddington, Alaska) as their proof.  The site is a rockshelter on an island just south of the main Alaska area and dates to about 50 – 1500 CE.  They used 7 sample units to look through and used the floating technique to recover the plant remains.  14 plant taxa, including charred and uncharred seeds, needles, buds, wood, and other plant parts, were found.  An additional 10 taxa were found but cannot be identified.  They conclude that the plant remains are ancient and were brought to the rockshelter by humans.  Lepofsky, Moss, and Lyons support this by noting there was no definitive evidence to support they were brought in by rodents or that they could have naturally been grown there.  The material was preserved so well because they were several layers down and not exposed to moisture. 
        Using the information from the plant remains found the authors conclude that the shelter was occupied in the spring and summer months.  There is no evidence of processing or storage, suggesting it was only in use for a short time.  This conclusion supports the faunal remains in the area and draws a connection to the Tilingit people.  This shows just one example of how looking at plant remains can help show more than just diet.

Lepofsky, Dana and Natasha Lyons
2003   Modeling ancient plant use in the Northwest Coast: towards an understanding of mobility and sedentism, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 30, pp. 1357-1371.

        In this article the authors are using their own model revolving around plant remains to interpret the Scowlitz site.  Located in the upper Fraser Valley of the southwestern British Columbia, the site is located between the confluence of two major rivers in the area.  Dating from the site indicates that it started to be used some 3000 years ago.  The faunal remains in the area were not well preserved do to the acidic forest soil so turning to plant remains is all the more important.  The site itself is divided up into two occupations.  The first occupation is called “structure 3” and it is a village composed of several large houses dating to around 3000-1800 B.P.  “Burned orange deposit” is the name of the second occupation and it dates to around 1000-800 B.P.  There is no evidence of a structure at this site and it is suggested that all of the activities were done outdoors.  The samples collected were selected from hearths, floors, and a pit from structure 3 and burn features, surfaces, and a cooking feature from the burned orange deposit.  Of the samples found, 42 plant taxa from 26 plant families were identified and they were mostly seeds, charcoal, needles, and non-woody tissue.  There were also 20 additional taxa that could not be identified.
        The model that the authors apply consist of looking at the richness (amount or plant remains), specialization (amount of a particular remain), density (abundance of remains measure by seeds/liter or grams of charcoal/liter), accessibility (if the plants were local), and seasonally (when the plants were collected could indicate when the site was occupied).  For richness they found that there were more food and non-food seeds in the burned orange site while there was more charcoal in the structure 3 site.  Specialization shows that both of the sites were dominated by a just few plant types (salal and red elderberry).  The burned orange deposit had three times more food than non-food type seeds than structure 3 when looking at density.  When looking at accessibility it is suggested that the major plant types in both sites could have been harvested locally.  Finally, seasonality shows that both sites were occupied for a minimum duration of spring, summer, and fall.  By applying this model archaeologists can get a lot more information from plant remains that what is currently believed.

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