Collaborative Archaeological and Ethnographic Approaches to Human – Plant Interactions

Mario Zimmermann
Email address: 
Proposal Type: 
Live 75 minute session - which includes 6 speakers/discussant timeslots.
Session Date and Time: 
Thursday, 13 May, 2021 - 09:00 to 10:15

Despite the absence of truly agricultural societies in most of pre-Contact Western North America, ethnobotanical research in the area has yielded a bounty of information on the ways Native inhabitants have managed certain plants in the past and continue to do so at present. This symposium features a series of ongoing projects centering on the archaeological and ethnographic evidence for the manipulation and consumption of specific vegetative resources. Our speakers address topics such as traditional foods and medicine, the smoking of tobacco and non-tobacco products, and the spread of caffeinated beverages in the Americas. Access to materials under study was made possible by collaborative research schemes involving tribal partners such as the Muwekma Ohlone of California, the Coquille of Oregon, and the Kalispel of Washington. Through the active exchange of data, ideas, and perceptions, study partners can move beyond academic pursuits and discuss implications in the realm of public health, cultural and ecological stewardship.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Zemede - Addis Ababa University
, Morgan - Clark University

The diversity of plants used within food systems signifies taxonomic richness and availability of food and other products necessary for the food system. About 25% of the Ethiopian flora is used within its food systems, including 188 cultivated species and 400 wild edibles that are directly consumed, as well as a wide array of plants used in production, storage, processing, preparation and distribution. Our review of food system plant diversity across 34 locations identified between 48 and 214 species directly consumed as food and/or used within food systems. Over 100 food system plant species were reported in 77% of study locations, although species per household rarely exceeded 20. Diversification of food crops, wild edibles and other food system species may enhance the adaptive capacity of farming communities. Agroecological and ethnobotanical research can support the conservation of food system plant agrobiodiversity to promote food security, climate resilience, and prosperity.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Molly - Washington State university
, Tara - Kalispel Tribe of Indians
, Pamela - University of Oregon
, Shannon - Washington State university
d'Alpoim Guedes
, Jade - University of California at San Diego

There is substantial ethnobotanical evidence that past peoples of Western North America were and continue to be active stewards of their plant resources. Camas (Camassia spp.) is an edible, perennial geophyte common throughout north-western North America. Camas has many associated oral histories and ethnographic descriptions describing the intimate ways these plants were cared for and managed in the past. Tracking the antiquity of such practices, however, has been challenging. In this paper, we weave together TEK with archaeological and botanical data to explore Holocene relationships between people and camas, with case studies from two valleys. We found that people began experimenting with selective harvesting practices, primarily targeting sexually mature bulbs, by 3,500 BP, with bulb harvesting practices akin to ethnographic descriptions firmly established by 1,000 BP. Our findings confirm and expand upon oral histories of Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge and establish supporting evidence for contemporary restoration and food security movements.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Elliot - Washington State University

A small, handheld bowl was recovered by the Coquille Indian Tribe from a shell midden deposit in Bandon, Oregon in 2018. Based on the morphological characteristics of the artifact, our hypothesis is that the bowl was used for grinding small quantities of plant materials, possibly for medicinal purposes. In this paper we compare residues extracted from the artifact to a range of traditional medicinal plants from the southern Oregon Coast using ancient residue metabolomics and discuss insights that these results give into ancient plant use in the region.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Arianna - University of California-San Diego
d'Alpoim Guedes
, Jade - University of California-San Diego
, Paul - University of California-San Diego

The Tiwanaku civilization (ca. A.D. 500-1100) originated in the Bolivian altiplano of the south-central Andes and largely depended on frost-resistant crops, such as quinoa and potatoes. Throughout the Middle Horizon, the Tiwanaku expanded and established colonies in the Peruvian coastal valleys to acquire lowland crops, such as maize. We employ a comprehensive analysis of archaeobotanical remains from the Tiwanaku-colonial site of Cerro San Antonio in the Locumba Valley during the period of Tiwanaku state expansion. Our findings show high proportions of altiplano-associated Amaranthaceae cultivars, suggesting the Tiwanaku maintained their culinary traditions as they migrated into the valleys. We explore whether Amaranthaceae arrived via trade or were brought to the site and grown locally. The strong presence of wild and weedy Amaranthaceae seeds, along with the cultivars’ ability to adapt to various agroclimatic and edaphic conditions, lead us to argue that the Tiwanaku colonists grew the traditional foods on the frontier.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, William - Washington State University
, Shannon - Washington State University

Ancient residue analyses have generally relied on the identification of specific compounds—biomarkers—known to be associated with certain plant taxa (e.g., nicotine with the genus Nicotiana). Recent methodological developments in ancient residue metabolomics have allowed researchers make associations between artifacts and plants to the species level. This opens the door to a better understanding of how multiple species of the same genus are used through time, as is the case for traditional tobacco use in Northwest North America. It also allows researchers to identify associations with the large majority of plants that lack known biomarkers. In this paper, we detail chemical evidence for the use of these other plants from sites throughout the Northwest Plateau including Rhus glabra, Salvia sonomensis, Cornus sericea, and Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. Drawing on, and sometimes contrasting with, the ethnographic record, we consider their possible uses as smoke plants in ancient contexts.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Samantha - University of Michigan, School for Environment & Sustainability
, Roger - Lac Vieux Desert, Native Wild Rice Coalition
, Lee - Match e be nash she wish (Gun Lake) Mnomen Elder
, Scott - Ferris State University

The lands occupied by the University of Michigan are within the traditional homelands of the Anishinaabek. The cession 4,000 acres of those lands via the 1817 Fort Meigs Treaty provided for the creation of the U-M. Violent, coercive land cessions such as these were methods the settler government used to gain control of the land now called the United States. The trauma of this process and the disruption of lifeways is felt today by Native peoples living within a society that limits their interaction with ancestral lands and foodways. As academics within a colonial institution, we must find ways to address these atrocities within our work, repair relationships and further justice and equity for the Native people of this land. The Mnomen Project seeks to do this by fostering partnerships between Anishinaabek community members and the U-M that build respectful, reciprocal relationships around the goal of restoring “the good berry”.