Farming, Hunting, and Fishing in the Olmec World

By Amber M. Vanderwarker | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
FARMING, GARDENING,
AND TREE MANAGEMENT:
ANALYSIS OF THE PLANT DATA

Understanding an agricultural system requires knowledge of the ways in which people interact with the plants and animals in their environment, as well as the causes and consequences of their manipulation of natural surroundings. Archaeologically, we can explore these issues through an examination of the remains of plants and animals within the context of analogy to modern ecology and anthropogenic change. This chapter focuses on the botanical side of Formative farming in the Tuxtlas—I focus more on the Formative occupations of the study sites than the subsequent Classic occupations. I begin with a discussion of methods, including procedures for recovery, laboratory analysis, and quantification. I then present the plants identified in the La Joya and Bezuapan assemblages to set the stage for my quantitative analysis. This section includes detailed ecological descriptions of the foods themselves as a background for reconstructing the manner in which people organized their agricultural system during the Formative period. Next, I present my quantitative analysis as a means to explore changes in the patterns of plant use through time. The final sections reconstruct the organization of the Formative farming system on the ground (in terms of field cropping, the home garden, and the management of tree resources) and place the archaeobotanical data in the context of regional political and environmental change.


METHODS OF ANALYSIS

In tropical open-air settings, archaeological plant and animal assemblages represent only a small fraction of what was used and deposited by humans. Natural and cultural factors can significantly modify organic remains, resulting in recovered assemblages that differ dramatically from the original deposits. As archaeologists, we examine collections that have undergone a series of processes—from the initial selection of plants and animals by humans, to food processing, cooking, discard, animal and insect scavenging, burial, decay, and weathering, and finally to the recovery of food resi

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