60 Photos - Jul 13, 2012
Photo: A quick 'anthropological' view on plant use both in modern and archaeological contexts.Photo: Prickly pear (Opuntia) widely available and the pads and the fruit are both edible.Photo: Agave, one of many species.  Some are used for fermentation, some for direct eating (after roasting).  They can provide a lot of fiber for everything from sandals to bags to mats.  A plant of many uses.Photo: Agave fibers, raw, in the flesh so to speak. These fibers are pretty easy to work and were widely used in many prehistoric societies.Photo: Bryan Rill (FSU PHD and Fulbright-Hayes fellowship holder) posing with rice - the staff of life and an important 'symbol' in Japan.  He spent over a year in Japan as part of his dissertation research.Photo: Wet sites like this, Salt Spring in Marion County, Florida, had  incredible plant preservation of all sorts of species that help us reconstruct both diet and environment and subsistence.  Seeds preserve really well.Photo: Collection of organics ready for shipment for floral and faunal analysis.  Lee Newsom, Pennsylvania State University, is the specialist called in to to examine much of the floral material.  This is a small part of the inventory from Salt Springs, Marion County, Florida.  The older levels are about 6,000 years old.  It was a cooperative project between the  US. Forest Service and National Park Service.  UF and FSU faculty and students also assisted in excavations.  We have two recent theses based on the materials from this site - bone tools (Julie Bryd) and lithics (Thadra Stanton).  Wet sites provide a wealth of information.Photo: Gourd/squash fragments and seeds.   Squash are from the Cucurbitacea family and are different from true gourds like Lagenaria.  There is a lot of research going on with respect to the distribution and domestication of these and other early plant species.  We have posted several articles on gourds on the page.Photo: The oval  seed on the left is from a squash (Cucurbitacea) and the longer, larger oblong type seed (right part of the bag) is from a bottle gourd.  In Asia gourds and gourd seeds are edible but the New World gourds appear to have bitter compounds and were apparently never eaten.  Squash seeds were eaten and are found in scats.  In fact the seeds were probably more important to prehistoric peoples than the flesh of the squash.Photo: Seed size reflects both maturity of the specimen and size changes over time as larger and larger seeded varieties were selected for propogation.Photo: Plants are more than just food products.  How would an anthropologist look at the plants in this photo and how would they interpet it?Photo: Thousands of years ago people used hundreds more species of plants.  Some were selected and have become dominant in our agricultural world.  Truthfully, we have a much more limited dietary inventory today than most hunter-gatherer-forager populations.  Prehistoric plant use studies can provide important insights into this process, its consequences and the origins of domestication.  This image is from an Italian market.Video: Peppers, peppers, peppers...  an important commodity and diet item all around the world.  The flesh is often gone in archaeological sites but the seeds are very distinct and sometimes preserve surprisingly well.  Dr. Lee Newsom has found some pepper seeds in southwestern Florida sites attesting to their widespread use.  These were getting ready to be roasted in the market at Santa Fe, New Mexico and the aroma was intoxicating.Photo: Sabal palm and saw palmetto all were important sources of fiber in the southeastern US.  In most sites nothing survives but in some Florida wet sites we see glimpses of what we are missing from the typical material inventory of prehistoric peoples.Photo: More Italian tasty domesticates.  Food traditions vary widely and tell us a lot about the society, its history and links across time and space.  Some wild looking beans on the right!Photo: Corn, beans and squash (along with gourds) were common domesticates in almost all New World agricultural populations. The gourds and squash reach deep into antiquity and clearly predate agriculture by thousands of years.  Hypothetically, the 'original' home of  Lagenaria is South Africa.  Apparently they move from there to Asia and then into the New World.  Gourds may be the oldest domesticated plant in the world.  Generally, they require some form of human intervention and don't survive in the wild without helping human hands.  The clearly show up in many hunting-gathering-foraging populations all around the world and predate  true 'agriculture' by thousands of years.  This 'still life'  is from Mission San Luis showing a typical 'Spanish' Native American kitchen scene.  Note the cob stopper in the small bottle gourd.Photo: Nuts to you. Though small in size, in many areas of the southeast and southwest,  acorns in some years can be abundant and some people were taking advantage of them as food. These were from Lake Jackson Mounds, just north of town.Photo: Native pecan on the left, small, hard, tasty but hard to deal with. Larger improved (domesticated) variety on the right. Lot of protein and lots of calories from fat. We, and our relatives have been eating nuts for a long, long time http://www.anthro.fsu.edu/pdf/inbaretal2002GBY.pdfVideo: Acorns require processing before you can eat them.  Pretty labor intensive but many people relied on them.Photo: Nuts are nice in that they are storable. Native hickory and walnuts are problems to crack and presented special challenges that prehistoric peoples overcame. Pecans are native to Texas, Oklahoma and Loiuisiana. Grant Hall (2000) has in interesting article on their prehistoric distribution http://www.anthro.fsu.edu/pdf/hall2000pecans.pdfPhoto: Beautiful soil flotation system in a lab in Japan. This is the approach that is best when trying to get detailed, tightly controlled information, on faunal and floral explotation. Process the soil carefully and do detailed studies of the 'residues'.Photo: Water screening also does a good job of getting at larger organic materials.  Tom Penders, with his back to you (blue shirt), is now the 'archaeology director' at Patrick Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral, Florida.Photo: Volunteer domestic sunflower.  Wild ones have smaller seeds, smaller disks and are overall smaller in general.Photo: Sunflowers.  Helianthus annuus.  Lot of varieties.  Wild and domestic.  Wild ones like disturbed soils around river margins and fields.  Over time the seeds get larger and larger and it is clear selection is going on in the process of domestication.Photo: Sunflowers are a New World domesticate now planted all over the world.  This is a large field  planted for oil in the Chianti region of Italy - note the long rows of grapes which are an important 'crop' in this region of Italy.Photo: A pretty typical 'native' sunflower. Growing on the side of the road basically. Small seeds, small seed heads but edible.  Stands can be dense making collection worth the effort.Photo: Cat tail roots are edible and the stems also provide fiber for weaving/twining activities.  Heads when dry were good fire starter materials.Photo: Sharpened wooden stake from an Irish bog site.  Could be around 6,000 years old.   Wet sites can have amazing preservation of organics like this.Photo: Cast of a wooden burial stake tip (Windover, Brevard County, Florida). Preservation of wood from wet sites can be a challenge in some cases.  If they dry out the crumble so most wet site materials have to be carefully 'conserved.'Photo: Wooden item (stake?) from Little Salt Springs in Sarasota County, Florida. Easily around 6,000 years old.Photo: Key Marco spear throwers and spear thrower parts (atlatl). This delivery system is older than the bow and arrow. From Marion Gillaland's beautiful book on Key Marco.Photo: Wooden bowls and cups from Gilliland's Key Marco book. One of the first spectacular Florida wet sites discovered. Frank Cushing originally discovered and reported on the site http://www.anthro.fsu.edu/pdf/cushing1896.pdfPhoto: Key Marco field photo (from around the turn of the 20th century).  Amazing stuff coming from a peat bog/pond.Photo: Perhaps 'Man the Hunter' is more than a bit overemphasized.  Gathering and foraging by women was often much more predictable and productive.  - borrowed from the internet - unknown source.Photo: FSU Anthropology field school (mission site).  Water screening and flotation can recover surprisingly delicate plant materials even from open sites.Photo: Corn and beans - New World domesticates.  Kolomoki Museum display, Kolomoki State Park, Georgia.  Full blown agriculture coupled with hunting-gathering and fishing.Photo: Corn, or maize, is clearly a New World domesticate that was critical in many agricultural populations in the New World. There is a lot of research into its origins .  It has been suggested (by a few) that maize was selected as much for its sweet stalk juice (fermentable) as for the kernal size.  http://www.anthro.fsu.edu/pdf/Pohl_et_al_PNAS_2007.pdf.Photo: More nuts - actually a great many species were harvested over the last 10,000 years. Again from Kolomoki museum display (it is about 80 miles from Tallahassee and is worth the drive - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolomoki_MoundsPhoto: Irrigated fields, some in use for over 1000 years, coastal Peru.  Water is critical and some prehistoric people were masters at water control.Photo: San Pedro cactus, Peru.  Edible and some of the extracts from it are basically mescaline.  Peru coastal uplands.Video: You sometimes find the pads in the store now but are more commonly on the menu in the southwestern US. I bought a jar of pickled 'nopalito' - cut strips or pear pad, pickled with a bit of pepper. Publix carries them. They look a bit like green beans but are obviously different.Photo: Mushrooms, some of which are edible, have a wide distribution.  Some have very 'active' biological compounds and some are poisonous.Photo: Wooden bowl from US Forest Service investigations in Florida. Minimally a thousand years old.Photo: US Forest Service project in shallow lakes drying up - mortar and pestle - the prehistoric 'Quisanart' .Photo: Peppers on the vine. Both important as a spice and as a food. Obviously a wide variation in the amount of 'heat' they have and how they are used.Photo: Squash, like peppers, and gourds show wide variability in size, shape, color, etc.  In the New World seeds show up in feces.Video: Yucca/agave plants.  Decorative plants in gardens but an imortant food and fiber source for many people particularly in the drier areas of the southwest and Mexico.Video: In Florida we can have several seasons of fruiting.  In other areas the season of fruiting is pretty distinct and can be used as a seasonal indicator of when a site was occupied.Photo: Wild grapes, central Florida, mid summer.  Have an average of 4 pips in each grape.  Count the pips in the gut or fecal material and you cane estimate how many grapes they were eating and get an idea on seasonality of the diet and occupation.Photo: Mid summer central Florida - could have collected a bushel basket in an hour with no problem.Photo: Ready for the picking - grapes in mid summer in central Florida.Photo: Lots of marsh plants like the cattails are edible and have long fibers in the fronds (leaves).Photo: A reconstruction of an open frame loom that most people in the New World probably used from 10,000 years ago to contact. Saw palmetto, agave, various grass fibers, barks, etc. could all provide fibers in the textile/fiber crafts.Photo: Rice ,  AMS dates on charred grains in Jomon pottery come in at around 9,000 years BP (uncorrected).Photo: Grapes, the domesticated type, appear somewhere on the order of 5,000 years ago (I am unsure of the exact aand earliest date).Photo: San Pedro cactus, Peru.  Edible and some of the extracts from it are basically mescaline.  Peru coastal uplands.Photo: Fermentation is a storage strategy for things seasonally abundant - grapes are a favorite.Photo: Century plants (agave) provide abundant fiber for cordage, sandals, etc. and provide sweet juice that can be turned into syrup or fermented.Photo: Florida dugout canoe.  Oldest in the state is pushing 6,000 years.Photo: Even this simple water screening will potentially provide some plant materials (Norden Site).