Squashes, pumpkins, and various gourds in the genus Cucurbita were domesticated on at least six independent occasions throughout the Americas, beginning ~10,000 years ago in southern Mesoamerica. They came to play major roles in prehistoric food production systems throughout North, Central, and South America, and are now produced at both subsistence and commercial scales worldwide. We present genome-scale DNA sequence data from diverse modern and archaeological specimens aimed at questions of natural history and domestication in the Cucurbita. We securely confirm eastern North America as an independent Cucurbita pepo domestication center; we suggest a widespread, protracted pattern for C. moschata throughout the circum-Caribbean zone; and, we identify a possible cultigen from northern Mexico that is previously unrecognized and now extinct. Finally, wild Cucurbita populations have declined dramatically during the Holocene. We attribute this decline to rapid ecological shifts, including climate change and the extinction of the wild plants’ megafaunal dispersers.
Podcasts from the 37th Annual SoE Conference
An integrated archaeogenomic view of squash and gourd (Cucurbita spp.) natural history, biogeography, and domestication
"Agüitas y sopitas”: Mothers’ knowledge, perceptions, and practices of traditional home remedies and medicinal food in the northern Andes
Populations in the northern Ecuadorian highlands have experienced profound nutritional, economic, medical, and agricultural change in the past several decades. Little is known about what traditional knowledge and practices are being lost as the nation pursues a “citizen revolution” of progress and development based on expert knowledge. This ethnographic study explores mothers’ knowledge and perceptions of local home remedies in a rural village in the province of Carchi. Participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and free listing provide evidence of a wide breadth of local and commercial medicinal plants and foods used by mothers in the home. Mothers take a pluralistic approach to health care, treating at home with available remedies, visiting specialized indigenous healers, and, if those prove ineffective and resources allow, consulting medical doctors. Interventions based on these results will focus on empowering local women to maintain positive nutritional and medical practices in the home.
Economic botany and ethnobotany of jimsonweeds (or toloaches) [Datura (Solanaceae)] in MegaMexico
Because Datura has played an important cultural role in North America, reinterpretation of relationships and interactions between humans and Datura is necessary in light of recent taxonomic studies. Phenetic and phylogenetic analyses of morphological and molecular data established species limits and relationships. Multivariate analyses of taxonomic, geographic, and climatic data defined distribution patterns. Derived diagnostic features and quantitative data were applied to archaeological reports, historical documents, literature and specimens in order to update the taxonomic determination.
MegaMexico is the center of origin and diversification of Datura with 13 species. Various species are ornamentals, have medicinal applications, are valued as entheogens by Native Americas, and cause poisonings. Geographic patterns are explained by altitude, precipitation, and temperature. Migration of Mesoamerican agricultural migration and of expansion of transportation networks account for its geographic expansion. The ornamental, therapeutic, and toxic properties of Datura have been appreciated in MegaMexico since preHispanic times and are exploited by the modern world.
A tale of ethnic minorities, rhododendron, and conservation in Yunnan Province, China
We investigated the uses of rhododendrons by eight ethnic groups from northwest Yunnan Province, China in order to determine the extent of sharing of ethnobotanical knowledge among these ethnic groups. Approximately 200 interviews were conducted with members of the Bai, Dulong, Han, Lisu, Naxi, Nu, Tibetan, and Yi ethnic groups. Using cluster analyses, comparisons were made of the interview responses to questions about rhododendron to discern the extent of sharing of ethnobotanical knowledge for each ethnic group. The Naxi, Tibetan, and Yi had separate ethnobotanical knowledge of rhododendron, while the Bai, Dulong, Han, Lisu, and Nu ethnic groups had variable and shared ethnobotanical knowledge of rhododendron. All of the eight ethnic groups knew uses for rhododendron, especially uses such as food and handicrafts.
Scale and social complexity: knowledge systems and effective conservation
Allegedly “primitive” societies are simpler in both size and environmental impact, i.e. they have a less complex network of social and economic interactions within humans. Such societies deal with economic and ecological reality in more “hands-on” fashion. They make the interaction among species and other factors more personal, and discuss their world and their scientific knowledge in terms of relationships rather than in the context of models and theoretical constructs that generalize about nature. Lacking complex infrastructure renders smaller societies more functional at an ecological level, because knowledge is based upon personal experience. As ecologists, we attempt to construct theories emerging from knowledge traditions that have no need for formal theory, because they are locally based the entities involved interact regularly. To generalize these findings strips them of this personal meaning. Attempts to draw place-based societies into “global economies” destroy connections and relationships, damaging effective conservation efforts.
Tasting and testing: addressing aboriginal concepts of berry contamination in Alberta's oil sands region
Fort McKay is a Cree, Dené and Métis community in the heart of the oil sands in northern Alberta, Canada. In partnership with the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, Fort McKay designed a long-term research project where they visit intact berry patches to share stories and TEK. The research team also observes berry health and quality and records perspectives on contamination. Many local berry patches have been disturbed and people do not trust berries that grow near oil sands developments, so people are now traveling greater distances to harvest. In 2013 the research team introduced scientific testing into the project by setting up passive air monitors in berry patches and sending berries to laboratories for testing. We will discuss the results from the testing, while contemplating the implications of verifying traditional knowledge with science in a context where expert knowledge, government regulations, and environmental impact assessments are driven by profit.
Human impact on the St Johns River: exploring the relationship between people and place
This paper explores the relationships between people and their environment, presenting an account of the impact that various social and economic interests have upon the St. Johns River watershed in Florida. This impact comes in the form of residential, commercial, and corporate consumption, extraction, and pollution of the waterways, which leads to a complex interplay between local and transnational interests regarding the roles people should play in the St. Johns River Water Management Area. The paper pays particular attention to the role of social media in disseminating local ecological interests to transnational audiences and provides a discussion on the implications and effects of deregulation and unfettered economic growth, which is often detrimental to the environment and at odds with the residential populations’ desire to maintain their way of life. Ethnographic inquiry inspired this work, which has expanded to include ethnoecological and political studies to better frame and contextualize the research.
Copal of Bursera (Burseraceae): extraction and marketing chain in central México
The fragrant copal is a resin extracted from various species of Bursera in several Mexican states. Since pre-Hispanic times, various cultures employed it in their rituals. Today copal continues to be a part of civil and religious ceremonies. Regional markets were sampled in the southern state of Mexico and adjacent Morelos; major attention was given to Ozumba market. Open interviews were conducted with collectors and vendors in order to determine: antiquity of their activities, market chains, and uses.
We found 8 types of natural copal as well as 2 synthetic resins. The market chain is based upon personal relationships between the collectors and traders that have developed over 100 years at annual fairs, where the wholesale price is fixed each year. Five classes of copal traders are present in Ozumba. Copal extraction requires urgent attention. Copal collectors cite decreased production due principally to diminishing number of productive trees.
Mothers' medicinal plant knowledge, folk illnesses, and treatment preferences for childcare in two pluralistic healthcare settings
Little information is known on mothers’ knowledge of medicinal plants for childcare in Africa. We aimed to identify which infant illnesses mothers knew to treat with plants and for which illnesses they sought biomedical care or traditional healers. We conducted 81 questionnaires in Bénin and Gabon and made 800 botanical specimens. Mothers from both countries were most knowledgeable on plants to treat respiratory illnesses, malaria, and diarrhea. They also cited recipes to encourage children to walk early, to monitor the closure of fontanels, and for herbal enemas. Traditional healers were reported to have specialized knowledge of folk illnesses while advanced malaria was cited as an illness to directly seek biomedicine. Folk illnesses give insight into local healthcare treatments and may reveal important neglected diseases. African mothers’ knowledge of medicinal plants serves as an entry point to understanding local health concepts, treatments, and healthcare preferences.
Seed size in the archaeobotanical record
Seed size increase in the archaeobotanical record is frequently taken as an indicator of domestication. Here, I offer some precautionary comments, based on research I carried out on wild emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccoides). In wild emmer there is pronounced interpopulation genotypic differentiation for seed size, associated with differences in site productivity; while within population the genotypically coded seed size is reduced phenotypically when conditions are less than optimum (e.g., shallow soil microsites). Similar patterns occur in domesticated plants, as agronomist Sinnott showed 90 years ago.
Seed size increase in the archaeobotanical record may be either phenotypic or genetic. If the former, it may reflect cultivation, but not domestication. Or even if genetic, it could reflect selection of the larger seeded wild genotypes under the high fertility of the cultivated field.
Dit Da Jow: iron hit wine in traditional Chinese medicine
Iron Hit Wine (Dit Da Jow) is a traditional herbal liniment common in Chinese households and martial arts. It contains a variety of Chinese herbs, fungi, and insects and is used to treat many ailments such as bruises and arthritis pain. The closely guarded recipes are typically passed down through families. We determined the chemical composition of a traditional liniment aged one and five years and a commercial formulation using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Results indicate that all formulations contain bioactive compounds with analgesic, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties. The younger preparation and the commercial formulation contained fewer bioactive compounds than the older, traditionally prepared liniment. The older liniment contained compounds involved in skin elasticity, cell-signaling, and preventing osteoporosis. Our results support the traditional knowledge that Dit Da Jow contains bioactive compounds that are beneficial for treating impact trauma. We will discuss the history and application of Dit Da Jow and study results.
A modern view of the genus Capsicum (chill peppers)
Capsicum, an endemic genus to the Americas in pre-Colombian times, spread to the Old World gaining an importance that in may ways exceeded its significance in the New World. Chili peppers transformed the diet of the world and continue to do so. People of Africa and Asia do not believe that hot peppers have a history of fewer than 500 years in the Old World. Linnaeus named several species of Capsicum in the 18th century. In the 19th century the size of Capsicum increased exponentially with the naming of more thsan 150 taxa. Today we recognize at least 36 species with as many as five new species still to be named and described from Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. The domesticated taxa have been assigned to as few as three and as many as five taxa. More than 200 cultivars exist world-wide with two of the best know being Jalapeno and Habanero.
Ancient use of Ephedra species in Central and Eastern Eurasia
Ephedra species have an ancient history of use in Eurasia, especially but not entirely in the arid areas of this huge region. More recently, archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence, along with deeper understanding of relevant written records, have provided us with additional insight into the traditional utilization of this of genus of unusual plants with very special alkaloids. Ephedra plants have long served as a stimulant and therapeutic medicine for people, producing many tonic benefits because of their ability to serve as bronchodilator and decongestant in addition to other significant effects on the central nervous system. Furthermore, given the appropriate set and setting, Ephedra combined with other substances in the past, as perhaps in the case of haoma and/or soma, can have potent psychoactive and physiological effects. Some of the more challenging hypotheses relating to the ancient uses of Ephedra species in Eurasia are analyzed in this paper.
Zarsaparilla (Smilex) exploitation in Honduras: research to estimate plants needed for 1857 export amounts
Smilax has a long history of use in both hemispheres. Traditional New World uses were overshadowed in the mid-1800s by the demand for Smilax to treat syphilis. Wells recorded that about 22,700 kg of zarsaparilla rhizomes were exported from Honduras in 1857, but the species and number of plants exported were not known. Our research objective was to conduct field work to estimate the number of Smilax plants needed to obtain this export amount. In Honduras (July, 2012) we excavated the rhizomes of 4 individual plants from 3 Smilax species. The rhizome dry-weights for 1 S. febrifuga (cuculmeca blanca), 1 S. officinalis (zarsaparilla), and 2 Smilax domingensis (cuculmeca) plants were, respectively, 3.00, 0.52, 2.32 and 25.49 kg. Doctoral work on Smilax by co-author Ferrufino (2010) enabled accurate identifications. Rhizome amounts varied with species and among individuals, but 1-8 thousand plants were estimated as needed to obtain 1857 export amounts.
Woodland period horticulturalists in East Tennessee
Expanding on the cultivation efforts of their Late Archaic predecessors, Early (3000-2200 BP) and Middle Woodland (2200-1400 BP) groups in East Tennessee left a larger imprint in the region, with increasing numbers of sites demonstrating greater intensity of occupation. This paper pulls together paleoethnobotanical data from a series of sites in the Ridge and Valley region and compares shifts (or lack thereof) in plant use to changes in site use through time.