WashU affiliated authors: Gayle J. Fritz (Dept. of Anthropolgy)
Abstract: Flexible strategies of crop production and wild food procurement helped late Mississippian farmers withstand environmental and social perturbations that preceded and followed European contact. Beans were fully incorporated by AD 1400, but their economic importance is difficult to assess due to low likelihood of preservation. Likewise, oily native seeds including sumpweed and sunflower are poorly represented in archaeobotanical assemblages, with cultigen sumpweed often considered all-but-extinct by the fifteenth century AD. Ritual grain offerings from an intentionally burned and buried structure at the Kuykendall Brake site in central Arkansas indicate that in this special context, beans were at least as highly valued as corn. Large domesticated sumpweed seeds were the third most common species, adding to evidence from other sites in the Southeast that this crop had not been dropped from all Native farming systems. Combining the information from Kuykendall Brake with data from other late Mississippian and early Contact period assemblages from the region, we conclude that the high level of agrobiodiversity and broad harvesting base alleviated risks of food insecurity and helped local societies sustain and prolong traditional lifeways.
Citation: Gayle J. Fritz & John H. House (2022) Native crops on the threshold of European contact: ritual seed deposits at Kuykendall Brake, Arkansas, Southeastern Archaeology, 41:2, 121-141