Date of Award

5-2012

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

Anthropology

Major Professor

Michael H. Logan

Committee Members

Gerald F. Schroedl, Kandace D. Hollenbach

Abstract

The development of agriculture in the New World has been a topic of prominent historic interest, but one that has ignored some regions in favor of others. The woodlands of Eastern North America have felt this bias in the investigation of agricultural origins, but this has not prevented the development of theories to explain the emergence of a complex of indigenous agricultural plants in the region. Data collection and technological advances have in large part validated these theories, creating a model for domestication. By emphasizing farming over other cultural practices, however, these theories lack explanatory power with regards to the domestication of some plants indigenous to the region, such as Chenopodium berlandieri Moq.

As one of the predominant plants of the Eastern Agricultural Complex, investigation of Chenopodium berlandieri supports alternative possibilities for plant use and adoption, in addition to or separate from agriculture. Based on ethnographic and archaeological evidence, it seems likely that alternative aspects of this plant were a driving force in both its initial use and its continued cultural value to the peoples of the Eastern Woodlands. Weedy plants, such as those utilized in Eastern North America, have a special relationship with human populations. That these same plants have a high proportion of active chemical compounds that are useful for medicine and food preservation suggests that a reevaluation of traditional perspectives of agricultural development is necessary. Any holistic understanding of plant use in the Eastern Woodlands should consider all possible cultural values in considering the nature of human-plant interaction.

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