Date of Award

12-2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

Anthropology

Major Professor

Kandace R. Hollenbach

Committee Members

David G. Anderson, Boyce N. Driskell

Abstract

Dust Cave, located in northern Alabama, was occupied seasonally for approximately 7,000 years, spanning five cultural occupations beginning with the Late Paleoindian period (12,650-11,200 cal B.P.) and extending into the Benton period (6,500-5,600 cal B.P.) (Sherwood et al. 2004). Due to the exceptional preservational environments found within the cave, the well preserved organic materials recovered from the site have provided a better understanding of both cultural and economic aspects of prehistoric life including subsistence strategies and mobility.

My research focuses on these aspects of life during the Eva/Morrow Mountain (8,400-6,000 cal B.P.) and Benton (6,500-5,600 cal B.P.) components at Dust Cave through the analysis of botanical remains. My objectives are to contribute to a better understanding of foraging adaptations and strategies used by hunter-gatherers in northern Alabama during the Middle Archaic period. Also, by further comparison of these materials to previously analyzed botanical materials from the site’s earlier occupations I attempt to show that hunters-gatherers adapted their subsistence strategies in response to a changing environmental and cultural landscape. I do so through the application of a diet breadth model. Developed within evolutionary ecology, diet breadth models attempt to predict how changing environments affect resource selectivity and explain resource selectivity by assuming that individuals make choices to acquire the most valuable resources in terms of their energetic return rates (Bettinger 1987:132).

Results of this research show that through time hunter-gatherers foraged more efficiently by focusing their subsistence practices on more highly ranked food resources in terms of energetic return rates (kcal/hr). Evidence is provided by the absence of edible seeds, a lower ranked resource, from the Middle Archaic diet as efforts were focused on more highly ranked food resources, like hickory nuts, in response to changing cultural and environmental conditions. More efficient foraging practices allowed individuals and groups living in resource rich areas to maximize their return rates and increase their genetic fitness by providing more time for individuals to participate in non-foraging activities, which would have provided these individuals with evolutionary advantages over individuals and groups that occupied less favorable environments.

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