Accounting for subsistence variation among maize farmers in Ohio valley prehistory
Four different causes (climatic change, demographic structure, resource availability and technology, and social context) have been suggested to account for aspects of the appearance of and variation in maize-based farming systems of the Eastern, but they remain undeveloped and, for the most part, unevaluated. Here, I examine variation in maize-based subsistence systems among populations of the middle and upper Ohio River valleys from the perspective of evolutionary theory. The four previously-espoused potential causes are rephrased as falsifiable hypotheses with evolutionary implications and are evaluated with respect to the archaeological record. Stable carbon isotope analyses of collagen derived from archaeological human skeletal remains, a measure of individual maize consumption, provide the backbone of this research. These bone chemistry data are then integrated with traditional sorts of archaeological data (e.g., botanical and faunal remains, environmental conditions, paleopathologies, settlement structure) to test each of the hypothesized causes for subsistence variation. Although data to thoroughly evaluate each of the hypotheses are unevenly available (the scarcity of crucial Late Woodland samples is particularly troublesome in all cases), a rough account of how and why maize farming in the study region varied as it did is produced. It is clear that no single parameter can account for the entire record of subsistence variation. Explanations must be crafted by taking into account the particular circumstances of subsistence systems at specific places. Although future research is required to resolve the several questions that remain, the structure for doing so scientifically is now established.
- Anthropology