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Acorns and Bitter Roots

Starch Grain Research in the Prehistoric Eastern Woodlands

Written by Timothy C. Messner

Publication Year: 2011

People regularly use plants for a wide range of utilitarian, spiritual, pharmacological, and dietary purposes throughout the world. Scholarly understanding of the nature of these uses in prehistory is particularly limited by the poor preservation of plant resources in the archaeological record. In the last two decades, researchers in the South Pacific and in Central and South America have developed microscopic starch grain analysis, a technique for overcoming the limitations of poorly preserved plant material.
In Acorns and Bitter Roots, Timothy C. Messner establishes starch grain analysis in the temperate climates of eastern North America using the Delaware River Watershed as a case study for furthering scholarly understanding of the relationship between native people and their biophysical environment in the Woodland Period. Messner’s analysis is based on extensive reviews of the literature on early historic and prehistoric native plant use and the collation of all available archaeobotanical data, a review of which also guided the author in selecting contemporary botanical specimens to identify and in interpreting starch residues recovered from ancient plant-processing technologies. The evidence presented here sheds light on many local ecological and cultural developments as ancient people shifted their subsistence focus from estuarine to riverine settings. These archaeobotanical datasets, Messner argues, illuminate both the conscious and unintentional translocal movement of ideas and ecologies throughout the Eastern Woodlands.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. vii

List of illustrations

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pp. ix-x

Note on Supplemental Material

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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv


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p. xv

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-10

The selection and utilization of subsistence resources filters through most aspects of prehistoric lifeways, influencing how archaeologists perceive and interpret the archaeological record. human/environment relationships can even be understood by detecting evidence of the plants and animals people...

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2. Interactions Between People and Plants

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pp. 11-39

One main focus of this work is to gain a greater understanding of prehistoric plant exploitation strategies in the middle Atlantic and greater eastern Woodlands. This chapter examines the ethnohistoric, ethnobotanical, and archaeological literature regarding plant use in the middle Atlantic region and beyond. These accounts describe the various types of locally available...

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3. The Biology and Archaeology of Starch Grain Research

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pp. 40-61

Many of the plants presented in Chapter 2 produce and use starch as their primary form of carbohydrate energy reserve. This chapter explores the biology of starch, emphasizing those aspects that make it valuable in archaeobotanical studies. in order to appropriately utilize this methodology, however, researchers must be familiar with...

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4. Approaches to and Outcomes of Plant Processing

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pp. 62-79

The physiochemical composition of a plant can influence how people interact with it, as many taxa require processing in order to render them edible, palatable, or culturally acceptable. relationships between people and plants, therefore, transcend mere selection as culture often...

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5. Starch Grain Studies in the Delaware River Watershed and Beyond

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pp. 81-112

The information presented within the previous chapters serves as the foundation upon which the remainder of this exploration into Delaware River Watershed (DRW) prehistoric people and plant interactions is built. in order to augment the archaeobotanical, ethnohistoric, and ethnobotanical data depicted earlier, artifacts...

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6. Woodland Period Plant Use in the Delaware River Watershed

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pp. 113-131

Data presented previously in this book are used in this chapter to interpret aspects of Woodland period prehistoric plant use and human/environment interactions in the Delaware river Watershed (DRW) and surrounding areas. The starch grain findings presented in Chapter 5 are evaluated here in conjunction with the macrobotanical, phytolith, and ethnohistoric accounts...

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7. The Environment of Paleoethnobotany

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pp. 132-137

Over the past several decades researchers have significantly advanced our archaeological understanding of prehistoric lifeways in eastern north America. one of the most important developments has been the refinement and acceleration in the application of archaeobotany. numerous journal articles, edited volumes, and books that fill the stacks of university libraries bear...

References Cited

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pp. 139-184


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pp. 185-195

E-ISBN-13: 9780817385316
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817356491

Illustrations: 24
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 772459664
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Acorns and Bitter Roots

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Subject Headings

  • Woodland Indians -- Delaware River Watershed (N.Y.-Del. and N.J.) -- Antiquities.
  • Ethnoarchaeology -- Delaware River Watershed (N.Y.-Del. and N.J.).
  • Paleoethnobotany -- Methodology.
  • Ethnoarchaeology -- Methodology.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- Delaware River Watershed (N.Y.-Del. and N.J.).
  • Delaware River Watershed (N.Y.-Del. and N.J.) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Starch -- Delaware River Watershed (N.Y.-Del. and N.J.) -- Analysis.
  • Paleoethnobotany -- Delaware River Watershed (N.Y.-Del. and N.J.).
  • Plant remains (Archaeology) -- Delaware River Watershed (N.Y.-Del. and N.J.).
  • Delaware River Watershed (N.Y.-Del. and N.J.) -- Antiquities.
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