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Evidence for Berry and Maize Processing on the Canadian Plains from Starch Grain Analysis

  • Sonia Zarrillo (a1) and Brian Kooyman (a1)
Abstract

The ethnographic and ethnohistoric records from the Northern and Canadian Plains indicate that a variety of plants were utilized by past peoples. These accounts provide two important insights into plant use in this region where very little archaeological evidence exists for plant utilization. First, plant processing tools are most likely to be unmodified lithic tools that may escape our recognition. Second, a variety of plants, which can be identified via starch grain analysis, were processed with these tools. This project analyzed the residues from two unmodified lithic grinding tools, identified as possible plant processing tools, for starch grains. Our results indicate that not only were a nuinber of wild plant species, such as choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), saskatoon berry (Amelanchier alnifolia) and likely prairie turnip (Psoralea esculenta), processed with these implements, but so too was maize (Zea mays). These results not only provide important insight with respect to identifying a tool class, plant use, and trade within our study area, but also provide an exceptional window into the use of wild plant species, an aspect of human history that is poorly understood in many regions of the world in addition to the Northern Plains.

Résumé

Los registros etnográficos y etnohistóricos de las Planicies del norte, en Canadá y los Estados Unidos, indican que una gran variedad de plantas fueron utilizadas en el pasado por los antiguos pobladores. Estos registros proveen dos fuentes importantes de información sobre la utilización de plantas en dicha región, en donde la evidencia arqueológica disponible sobre la antigua utilización de plantas es aún limitada. En primer lugar, las herramientas para procesamiento de plantas aparentan ser herramientas líticas sin modificación cultural que pueden escapar a nuestro reconocimiento. En segundo lugar, una variedad de plantas fueron procesadas por impacto mecánico, o fricción y presión (molienda) con estas herramientas. En este proyecto se analizaron los residuos de almidón localizados en dos supuestas herramientas de molienda—sin modificación cultural—con el objetivo de determinar si los posibles restos de almidón indicaban que las herramientas habían sido utilizadas para el procesamiento de plantas. Nuestros resultados indican que no únicamente estos implementos se usaron para procesar un importante número de especies de plantas silvestres, tales como el “choke cherry” (Prunus virginiana), el “saskatoon” (Amelanchier alnifolia) y el “prairie turnip” (Psoralea esculenta), sino también plantas como el maíz (Zea mays). La identificación de las especies de plantas silvestres no es sorprendente si se considera la información que se localiza en los registros etnográficos y etnohistóricos de la región, los cuales documentan que las herramientas líticas sin modificaciones culturales fueron usadas para procesar moras y tubérculos de tales especies. La presencia de maíz tampoco es sorprendente y su hallazgo se ha interpretado como el resultado del intercambio o comercio en la región, ya que esta planta no se cultivó en la época previa al contacto europeo. El registro arqueológico muestra que el comercio interregional de tipos líticos exóticos se remonta a miles de años e indica patrones de interacción cultural de larga duración. En el periodo del contacto Europeo se ha documentado ampliamente que el maíz fue producto de intercambio por carne de bisonte entre las aldeas de horticultores de la región meridional de Missouri y las tribus nómadas de las Planicies, un patrón de intercambio que aparentemente pudo haber existido antes del contacto Europeo. El análisis de residuos de granos de almidón fue instrumental ya que identificó la función de estas herramientas líticas sin modificación cultural. Estos resultados no solo proveen importante información con respecto a la identificación de diferentes clases de herramientas. El uso de diferentes plantas y el patrón de intercambio en nuestra área de estudio, sino que además pueden considerarse un recurso excepcional para inspeccionar el uso de plantas silvestres, un aspecto de la historia humana que está deficientemente estudiada en muchas regiones del mundo, no únicamente en las Planicies del Norte.

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