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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A macrobotanical analysis of Native American maize agriculture at the Smith's Point site
by Ferguson, Kelly A., M.A., University of Massachusetts Boston, 2010, 119; 1480789
Abstract (Summary)

The Smith’s Point site was a seasonally inhabited Native American encampment in Yarmouth, Massachusetts occupied from the Middle Woodland through the early Colonial periods. Excavations at the site in the early 1990s yielded the remains of a multi-component site including both an agricultural field and an adjacent living area. The macrobotanical remains from the agricultural and living area features were examined for this thesis project in order to investigate subsistence practices at the site. The findings show that Native Americans actively shaped these ecological niches for purposes such as maintaining and improving their subsistence base. These landscape management activities included field burning and maize agriculture.

Beginning with 16th and 17th century European settler’s and explorer’s written accounts of New England, the “New World” has often been described as a pristine wilderness in which Native Americans play a passive role. In fact, as the Smith’s Point site macrobotanical data indicate, Native Americans were actively and perpetually altering their ecosystems. Therefore, I conclude that past landscapes at the site were not pristine wilderness but rather culturally constructed niches.

These macrobotanical data also lend insights into social dynamics at the site, specifically women’s roles in shaping these landscapes. As women were the primary inhabitants, farmers, wild plant managers, and shellfishers at the site, their cumulative niche-construction activities not only nourished the community but also made a measurable impact upon the landscape and indicate horticultural innovation over time. The social dimension of this thesis research is particularly valuable because it dovetails well with previous Smith’s Point site investigations of gender relations, individual agency, and the landscape.

Lastly, the use of radiocarbon dating on charred maize and bayberry remains from the agricultural field helped to pinpoint landscape management events at the site. The results suggest a Middle Woodland landscape-clearing event that enriched soil fertility and promoted wild edible plant growth. Agricultural remains dating to the 17th century A.D. suggest inhabitants expanded subsistence practices at Smith’s Point over time, adding agriculture to their well-established seasonal round.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Mrozowski, Stephen A., Trigg, Heather B.
Commitee: Silliman, Stephen W.
School: University of Massachusetts Boston
Department: Historical Archaeology
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: MAI 49/01M, Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology, American history, Native American studies
Keywords: Environmental archaeology, Historical archaeology, Maize agriculture, Massachusetts, Native American history, Paleoethnobotany
Publication Number: 1480789
ISBN: 978-1-124-19494-3
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