Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Stable Isotope Analysis and Diet in Eastern Oklahoma

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Stable Isotope Analysis and Diet in Eastern Oklahoma

Article excerpt

In recent decades stable isotope studies have made significant contributions to the analysis of human diets. Within the Eastern Woodlands of North America these studies altered interpretations of the role of maize (and other dietary components) and the relationship between agricultural intensification and the development of social complexity. Although the relationship between maize and social complexity was once a fundamental part of interpretations, it is now well established that the emergence of stratified societies of the Mississippian period, between A.D. 750 and 1050, is not closely tied to the extensive consumption of maize (Lynott et al. 1986; Vogel and van der Merwe 1977). In most areas maize became a major part of the diet only after about A.D. 1000 (Ambrose 1987:97; Hastorf and Johannessen 1994:432), although it was often eaten in smaller quantities as early as the Woodland period (between A.D. 200 and 400; Rose 2008; Smith and Cowan 2003:117). Whether maize is linked to the beginnings of the Mississippian societies or not, it is true that this one Mesoamerican cultigen did become a dietary staple and sustaining crop between A.D. 900 and 1000 (Lynott et al. 1986; Smith and Cowan 2003:117-118).

Severing the tie between maize and the rise of social complexity coincides with an increase in the exploration by archaeologists of other subsistence strategies and social variation across the spectrum of indigenous stratified societies in the Eastern Woodlands and elsewhere (e.g., Drennan and Uribe 1987; Pauketat 2007; Rogers and Smith 1995; Scarry 1996; Yerkes 2005). Revelations about maize parallels analytical shifts in the study of Mississippian societies over the last 15 years away from the search for the attributes of the ethnographically defined generic chiefdom toward an exploration of variation and the shifting landscape of economic, social, and political factors that structured trajectories of change.

Variability in the consumption of maize may not be directly linked to the development of social complexity; however, it is directly linked to a variety of other processes. Although maize was present in most areas for hundreds of years during the Woodland period as a minor dietary component, its rapid rise as a staple, often in a span of only 50 to 100 years, points to links with the role of exchange and interaction in the spread of technology, change in subsistence strategies, relative health status, demographics, as well as climate change events and their effects on agricultural potential and stability.

Some of these issues become extremely important in analysis of long-term social change in areas at the geographical margins, either environmentally or culturally. The study region composed of the Arkansas basin and Ozark Highlands, bordering the Great Plains (Figure 1), represents the westernmost extension of the Mississippian cultural system. By A.D. 900 people in the area lived in dispersed settlements and practiced horticulture within the Caddoan Tradition (Perttula 1996; Rogers 1991; Wyckoff 1980). Although cultural changes in the study area followed a somewhat different trajectory than adjoining Caddoan areas, there are close similarities to developments in southwestern Arkansas, northern Louisiana, and eastern "Texas (Brown 1996:28; Schambach 1982:191; Story 1981:149). Within the eastern Oklahoma portion of this larger region a series of human and faunal samples spanning the time range of 300 B.C. to A.D. 1650 were analyzed for stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes. The primary objective of the study is to identify the role of maize in subsistence changes.

Environmental conditions in the study area were somewhat more marginal for agriculture compared to the floodplain adaptations characteristic of the Mississippian in many areas of the Southeast and Midwest. While not all prehistoric societies of the Mississippian period are characterized by intensive agriculture (e.g., Fritz and Kidder 1993; Widmer 1988), the general pattern is still associated with field agriculture exploitation of riverine environments, combined with the use of a variety of wild faunal and floral resources (Smith 1978:483-484). …

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