Introduction

By Youngblood, Dawn; Dering, Phil | Plains Anthropologist, February 2008 | Go to article overview

Introduction


Youngblood, Dawn, Dering, Phil, Plains Anthropologist


This special issue began in 2004 when I (Dawn Youngblood) was asked by Sy Sohmer, Director of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) and fellow member of the Society for Economic Botany (SEB) to chair a day long symposia on any topic I might propose for the 2005 annual meeting of the Society to be held in Fort Worth. BRIT was sponsoring the international conference, which ended up being held on the campus of Texas Christian University. For those unfamiliar with the Society for Economic Botany, SEB was established in 1959 to foster scientific research and education regarding the past, present, and future relationship between plants and people. The interdisciplinary field of economic botany includes many established disciplines including anthropology, archaeology, chemistry, economics, ethnobotany, ethnology, forestry, genetic resources, geography, geology, horticulture, medicine, microbiology, nutrition, and pharmacology, in addition to the established botanical disciplines. I had recently published a feature article in the Society's peer-reviewed journal, Economic Botany. Further, I lived in Fort Worth so I could easily serve on the organizing committee for the annual meeting. What an exciting opportunity. I could propose almost any topic and bring together through invitation to participate any group of scholars. My recent research had been in South Africa. I had investigated plant use in a region where hunter-gatherers adopted domesticates then, insofar as the archaeological record suggests, turned right around and abandoned pastoralism and for several hundred years were again "pure" hunter-gatherers. My exploration of environmental variables strongly suggested these played a major role in the strategy shift. Previous research involved the Neolithic transition to agriculture in Egypt. I also had worked in Texas archaeology, particularly in north-central Texas.

It has long been obvious that a rather large farming "gap" occurred within this area between the southwestern Puebloan area and the southeastern Mississippian area in the southern United States. Although some farming had occurred in the region, it was by no means as intense or widespread as it was if one traveled in either direction. Why?

I had been working on my own explanation, but others had been working in this region far longer. I began compiling a list of researchers that I thought could shed light on this problem. The original list was jotted down on the back of a napkin. I began calling some of them. Britt Bousman of Texas State University was one of the first to be called since I happened to have another matter to discuss with him as well. "You have got to get Phil Dering to co-chair" said Britt. "That would be wonderful, but will he?" I wondered aloud. Next, I spoke with Alston Thorns of Texas A&M University. After sharing notes on tubers for nearly an hour, Alston asked "Have you called Phil Dering yet?" There is little doubt in anyone's mind-in any serious discussion of archaeobotany in the eastern Pueblo range to the western Mississippian region-Phil Dering is on the pinnacle of everyone's list. To make a short story long, I called and Phil graciously agreed to co-chair the symposia. Thanks in large measure to Phil's involvement, the symposia was a smashing success. As a direct result of our symposia, the SEB has decided to feature the hosting region's ethnobotany in future meetings as a matter of course. The following autumn, Phil and I and our invited participants took the show on the road, so to speak, and presented an increasingly refined version of the SEB symposia to the Texas Archaeological Society at their annual meeting in Austin. In this special issue of Plains Anthropologist, the papers are refined even further.

The issue had been planned from the first presentation of the papers in June 2005 when the late editor of Plains Anthropologist, Susana Katz, was in attendance and agreed on the spot to publish "this important and groundbreaking collection of papers. …

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