The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Paleoethnobotany of eastern Native Americans

Corn storage pitIt's amazing how finding the right words expedites research.  Ever since I learned that modern forest gardening is based on traditional farming practices in the tropics, I've wondered "What do Native Americans from my own neck of the woods have to teach us?"  Delving into North American native agriculture, I quickly learned that corn dominated the area's fields and diet in a near monoculture for the last thousand years, causing health problems I don't want to repeat.  But corn had only travelled north from Mexico in the last couple of millenia --- what did people around here eat before that?

During our visit to Sunwatch, I splurged on a couple of books, one of which was a type-written and home-bound writeup of the archaeological history of the site, not so succinctly titled A History of 17 Years of Excavation and Reconstruction --- A Chronicle of 12th Century Human Values and the Built Environment: Volume 1Can you blame me that I put this tome on a back shelf for a cold winter day?

Exhibit of Native Americans harvesting cornIf I'd opened this remarkably easy to read volume back in the summer, though, I would have shortened my research journey considerably.  The text provides an overview of not only the diets of the Sunwatch inhabitants (living in the era of corn), but a comparison with the diets of people who lived in the same area before corn became king.  Best yet, one chapter is entitled "Paleoethnobotanical Research at the Incinerator Site."  Eureka!  Using my newfound understanding of the eras of prehistory in the eastern U.S. and the name of the field, I quickly found several (also easy to read) scientific and layman's texts about the paleoethnobotany of Archaic and Woodland Native Americans.  If only I'd known that's what I was looking for eighteen months ago!

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This post is part of our Native American Paleoethnobotany lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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So what was their diet like?
Comment by Brian Mon Jan 24 13:40:14 2011
That's next up in the lunchtime series.
Comment by anna Mon Jan 24 14:23:21 2011

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