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Shott (2022, American Antiquity 87:794–815) argues that making inferences from ceramic data requires first inferring use lives of vessels—something that is difficult to do. This comment argues that the problem of differential use life becomes more tractable if the assemblage, rather than the vessel, is the unit of analysis. Aside from empirical reasons, theoretical considerations also favor the assemblage as the appropriate unit.
In eastern North America, Indigenous peoples domesticated several crops that are now extinct. We present experimental data that alters our understanding of the domestication of one of these—goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri). Ancient domesticated goosefoot has been recognized on the basis of seed morphology, especially a decrease in the thickness of the seed coat (testa). Nondomesticated goosefoot also sometimes produces seeds that look similar or even identical to domesticated ones, but researchers believed that such seeds were rare (1%–3%). We conducted a common garden experiment and a series of carbonization experiments to better understand the determinants of seed polymorphism in archaeobotanical assemblages. We found that goosefoot produces much higher percentages of thin-testa seeds (mean 50% in our experiment, 15%–34% in free-living parent populations) than previously reported. We also found that cultivated plants produce more thin-testa seeds than their free-living parents, demonstrating that this trait is plastic in response to a garden environment. The carbonization experiments suggest that thin-testa seeds preserve under a larger window of conditions than thick-testa seeds, contrary to our expectations. These results suggest that (1) carbonized, phenotypically mixed assemblages should be interpreted cautiously, and (2) developmental plasticity and genetic assimilation played a role in the domestication of goosefoot.
Archaeologists working in eastern North America typically refer to precontact and early postcontact Native American maize-based agriculture as shifting or swidden. Based on a comparison with European agriculture, it is generally posited that the lack of plows, draft animals, and animal manure fertilization resulted in the rapid depletion of soil nitrogen. This required Indigenous farmers to move their fields frequently. In Northern Iroquoia, depletion of soil fertility is frequently cited as one reason why villages were moved to new locations every 20 to 40 years. Recent analysis of δ15N ratios of maize macrobotanical remains from Northern Iroquoia, however, suggests that Iroquoian farmers were able to maintain soil nitrogen in their maize fields. An expanded analysis of maize kernel δ15N ratios from three ancestral Mohawk villages indicates that farmers from those villages maintained soil nitrogen throughout the occupational spans of their villages. It further suggests that precontact Iroquoian agronomy was consistent with contemporary conservation agriculture practices.
Applying a coastal-geoarchaeological approach, we synthesize stratigraphic, sedimentological, mollusk-zooarchaeological, and radiometric datasets from recent excavations and sediment coring at Harbor Key (8MA15)—a shell-terraformed Native mound complex within Tampa Bay, on the central peninsular Gulf Coast of Florida. We significantly revise the chronological understanding of the site and place it among the relatively few early civic-ceremonial centers in the region. Analyses of submound contexts revealed that the early first millennium mound center was constructed atop a platform of sand and ex situ cultural shell deposits that were reworked during ancient storm landfalls around 2000 BP. We situate Harbor Key within a seascape-scale stratigraphic and paleoenvironmental framework and show that the shellworks comprise an artificial barrier protecting the leeward estuary basin (and productive inshore wetlands) from high-energy conditions of the open bay and swells from the Gulf of Mexico. The sedimentary and archaeological records attest to the long-term history of morphodynamic interaction between coastal processes and Indigenous shell terraforming in the region and suggest that early first millennium mound building in Tampa Bay was tied to the recognition and reuse of antecedent shellworks and the persistent management of encompassing cultural seascapes.
A long-term project to map and catalog all precontact Native American burial mounds in Iowa provides information about the number, location, form, survivorship, and rate of loss of mounds. This analysis reveals previously undocumented mound manifestations, including a large cluster of 200 linear mounds along the central Des Moines River valley. Historical records reveal that at least 7,762 mounds were identified at 1,551 sites in Iowa between 1840 and the present. About 47% of the mounds from these sites can be possibly seen in lidar, with 33% of the total clearly seen in lidar. Data show that mound loss over time is linear. Extrapolation of data suggests that at least 15,000–17,000 mounds stood in Iowa in the nineteenth century, but the actual number was likely higher.
Social, political, and economic institutions covary with one another in heterogenous ways across space and time. Social Network Analysis (SNA) offers a set of analytical tools and conceptual frameworks that have allowed for formal comparisons of interactions, affiliations, and relationships in reconstructing historical trajectories of institutional change. Although archaeologists have made full use of a range of metrics that describe the structural variation of social networks, formal approaches to analyzing the covariance of networks, and the institutions that structured networks in the past, remain undertheorized. In most cases, descriptive metrics are compared between networks built from different datasets or networks separated in time. Using quadratic assignment procedure (QAP) correlations to compare matrices of archaeological data, I draw on a ceramic dataset of approximately 350,000 sherds from the Southern Appalachian region to investigate how decisions related to manufacture choice and to stylistic design covaried with one another between roughly AD 800 and 1650. I explore how material attributes may or may not vary independently of one another and what that means for our analyses of the institutions they reflect. The results contribute to broader comparative analyses of institutional change and perennial discussions of social evolution.