The National Science Foundation funded Prelude to Plant Domestication project investigates changes in prehistoric peoples’ subsistence use of plant resources and processing technologies in the Archaic period in the Lower Illinois Valley. Led by Jane Buikstra (Arizona State University/Center for American Archeology) and Tim Messner (Center for American Archeology), this collaborative investigation of changing plant usage and technology draws upon the talents of scholars from a number of institutions around the country: David Asch (CAA), Nancy Sidell Asch (CAA), Steven Bozarth (University of Kansas), Sander van der Leeuw (ASU), Melody Pope (University of Iowa), April Sievart (Indiana University), Gregory Vogel (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville).
Grinding tools such as manos, metates and nutting stones from a variety of Archaic Lower Illinois Valley sites, including Koster Horizon 11, Elizabeth Mounds, and Campbell Hollow, are being examined for the presence of microfossil plant residues. In addition, morphological use characteristics such as wear, degree of manufacturing, and staining, among others, are being recorded. Chipped stone tools from Koster Horizon 11 are also being analyzed, with use-wear analyses. These analyses will allow scholars to better understand the roles Archaic stone tool assemblages played processing both organic and inorganic resources, as well as documenting changing relationships between technology and plant utilization prior to domestication of the Eastern Agricultural Complex. To further refine our knowledge of Archaic plant-based subsistence strategies, macrobotanicals and phytoliths from Koster Horizon 11 are being analyzed as well. Finally, piece-plot maps from the Koster Horizon 11 excavations are being digitized in order to conduct analyses of tools, features, macrobotanicals and phytoliths within Horizon 11 to better understand the spatial organization of plant use and processing.
Initial starch, phytolith and macrobotanical analyses demonstrate Early Archaic peoples used a variety of plants. Taxa identified from Koster Horizon 11 chenopod (Chenopodium berlandieri), sumac (Rhus), honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), several different types of nuts (hickory/Carya, acorns/Quercus and walnut/Juglans) and tubers from groundnut (Apios americana). Phytolith studies of Horizon 11 soil samples reavealed evidence of sunflower (Helianthus annus), common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and Pooid grasses. Starch grains from several different types of economic grasses, wild bean (Strophostyles helvola), fruits of Roseaceae and at least three different geophytic taxa were isolated from the surfaces of grindings stones.
This research is ongoing and promised to expand our understanding of subsistence use of plants and stone technology during the Archaic period. Archaeobotanical data collected from this study, when viewed in conjunction with changing relationships between people and processing technology, will provide greater insight into the trajectory towards domestication in the lower Illinois River Valley.