Monday, April 13, 2009

Agricultural Dawn in Upper Mississippi Valley

This item establishes the antiquity of agriculture in the Upper Mississippi Valley and it is noteworthy that corn is not on that list yet. Small barley and chenopods are seed sources whose productivity is surely hard won compared to most grains. Rather interesting however is that they exploited marsh elder which is a highly productive very sweet fruit that would lend itself well to drying. The berries are small and thus quick to dry out. They would be ideal for the production of pemmican.

Apparently wild ragweed was also exploited for seed. The domesticated form is known as amaranth. As an aside freshly sprouted ragweed four inches long and not yet producing a mature leaf provides the best spring greens for steaming. They should be produced commercially just like alfalfa sprouts. It is traditionally called lamb’s quarters.

We have forgotten how to use bottle gourds and the like in our cuisine but I recently got a good indication. The flesh is air dried and then smoke preserved. This can be then added to soups and stews as a flavoring agent as well as a food source. This also can be developed into a modern industry.

This describes a robust agriculture in the upper Mississippi valley beginning in the middle of the European Bronze Age and contemporaneous with the advent of copper mining just north around Lake Superior.

All this is early days in understanding the archeology of the Upper Mississippi Valley. A few sites are located and many have been ignored due to intellectual prejudice. It is reasonable to assume a high level of contact and inspiration between sites, and also reasonable to anticipate European contact influencing the rise of these site. Proving it is quite another matter.

Agricultural Clues of Early North American Civilization

By Brandon Keim
April 06, 2009 5:44:42 PMCategories: Agriculture, Archaeology

North America's cradle of civilization can be traced 3,800 years back to the lower Illinois River valley.
It's there that archaeologists have found evidence of the continent's first so-called agricultural complex — a set of different crops, rather than a single domesticated plant species.

A rough biological analogue of an agricultural complex is a multicellular animal: It represents a higher level of both complexity and possibility, in which the ability to process more types of energy and better adapt to shifting environmental conditions.

As described Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, molecular-scale imaging of botanical remains from the Riverton, Illinois archaeological site shows that at least five crops were harvested 3,800 years ago: bottle gourds, sunflowers, marsh elders and two varieties of
chenopods (for seeds)(pictured at right).

for a better description of pre contact gardening.

Two other plants, the Cucurbita pepo squash and little barley, appear to have been consumed, though evidence of their domestication is not as clear.

Turn back the clock another 200 years, and no such complex is apparent.

The findings provide an early window into the dietary habits of the region, and could ultimately help anthropological sleuths trace a narrative of cultural evolution from hunter-gatherer to complex society.
In the meantime, they suggest the makings of a retro-historical Thanksgiving feast.

Citation: "Initial formation of an indigenous crop complex in eastern North America at 3800 B.P." By Bruce D. Smith and Richard A. Yarnell. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 106, No. 14, April 6, 2009.

Image: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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