This research explores the factors that motivated increasing reliance on maize during the Basketmaker II period in the North American Southwest. Through the analysis of 44 human paleofeces from Turkey Pen Ruin, Utah, I investigate resource choice and nutritional supplementation of maize before the advent of bean horticulture. In order to discern what resources provided caloric and nutritional supplementation to maize, all paleofecal specimens were analyzed for pollen and macrofossil content, and 20 were further sampled for PCR analysis targeted at several select animal and plant species. Eight paleofecal specimens from various stratigraphic layers were directly AMS dated in order to better assess the chronology of the midden from which they were excavated, and to determine their cultural phase association. The resulting data allowed for the testing of three hypotheses based in human behavioral ecology, specifically applying diet-breadth and patch-choice models.
The results of this project demonstrate that the diet of these early maize farmers was relatively broad, and included a high proportion of resources with lower caloric returns than maize. Furthermore, plants associated with field and disturbance settings, such as goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.) and purslane (Portulaca spp.), which provide excellent nutritional complements to maize, made large contributions to the diet. Overall, these findings indicate that people were pushed to increase their reliance on farming due to resource depression, and that the anthropogenic niche created by farming activities encouraged greater focus on the field as a patch of multiple types of resources, and not only as a location for growing maize. The discovery of corn smut (Ustilago maydis) spores in all but one of the specimens studied suggest that this parasitic fungus may also have made a noteworthy contribution to the diet, further supporting the emphasis on the field as a patch. In combination, these data and theoretical analyses help to explain the subsistence choices made by Basketmaker II people. In particular, these results clarify what motivated people to increasingly focus on farming, and highlight the wild resources used to augment maize-based nutrition prior to the incorporation of beans, which provided essential nutrients during later periods.
B. Sunday Eiselt
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Battillo, Jenna M., "Supplementing Maize Agriculture in Basketmaker II Subsistence: Dietary Analysis of Human Paleofeces from Turkey Pen Ruin (42SA3714)" (2017). Anthropology Theses and Dissertations. 1.