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Paleoclimate and the Potential Food Reserves of Mississippian Societies: A Case Study from the Savannah River Valley

  • David G. Anderson (a1), David W. Stahle (a2) and Malcolm K. Cleaveland (a2)

Abstract

Precipitation reconstructions based on bald cypress (Taxodium distichum L. Rich) annual growth ring data collected from locations near the Savannah River valley, coupled with a series of simple models of storage capability, are used to calculate the agricultural food reserves potentially available each year from A.D. 1005 to 1600 to local prehistoric Mississippian populations. The resulting food reserve estimates suggest that interannual variation in rainfall during the growing season may have resulted in both extended periods of food surplus and food shortfall. We hypothesize that prolonged episodes of agricultural food surplus and shortfall had a pronounced impact on the historical trajectories of these chiefdom societies. This argument is supported by historical accounts describing the impact of drought during the period of Spanish settlement at Santa Elena (A.D. 1565-1587), and offers a possible explanation for some of the major changes observed in the late prehistoric archaeological record in the Savannah River valley, including the emergence, expansión, and decline of several mound centers and the eventual abandonment of a large portion of the basin. The study indicates the value, and potential, of analyses linking archaeological, historical, and dendrochronological data in the southeastern United States.

Resumen

Reconstrucciones de precipitación basadas en muestras de anillos de crecimiento annual del ciprés pelado (Taxodium distichum L. Rich) recolectadas en lugares cerca del Valle del rio Savannah, junto con una serie de modelos simples de capacidad de almacenamiento, se utilizan en el cálculo de las reservas de productos agrίcolas potencialmente disponibles anualmente, desde 1005 hasta 1600 DC, para las poblaciones prehistóricas Misisipianas locales. Los estimados de reserva de alimento resultantes sugieren que la variación en la precipitación interanual durante la estación de crecimiento habrίa producido tanto perίodos de abundancia como de escasez de alimentos. Nosotros proponemos que episodoios prolongados de abundancia y escacez de alimentos tuvieron un impacto pronunciado den las trayectorias históricas de estos cacicazgos. Este argumento está reforzado con documentos históricos que describen el impacto de la sequίa durante el perίodo de asentamiento hispánico en Santa Elena (A.D. 1565-1587), y ofrece una posible explicación para los cambios mayores observados en el registro arqueológico del perίodo prehistórico tardίo en el Valle del rio Savannah, incluyendo la emergencia, expansión, y deterioro de algunos centros con montίculos y el eventual abandono de una gran porción de la cuenca. Este estudio ilustra el valor y potencial de análisis que integran datos arqueológicos, históricos y dendrocronológicos en el sureste de los Estados Unidos.

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