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Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Award: The Relationship Between Agriculture and Settlement Pattern


Researchers seek to understand how foraging, food processing, and agriculture affect the ways in which human groups organize their communities in terms of mobile settlements and sedentism. Traditionally, researchers have equated mobility with foraging practices while equating sedentary life, which features permanent or semi-permanent settlement, with agriculture. Recent research, however, suggests that this may be a false dichotomy, that agriculture and sedentism may not necessarily be linked, and that there may exist a diversity of ways in which groups can practice agriculture. Archaeological research is well situated to investigate the relationship between agriculture, sedentism, and food processing because it can document and compare the ways in which different human groups living in different local environments undergo cultural change over long periods. Krista Dotzel and Dr. Kevin McBride will investigate these issues by researching to understand past indigenous foraging and maize farming communities and their relationships to mobility and sedentism in Southern New England, USA. Radiocarbon dates produced for this research will help other researchers better understand the cultural chronology of the region. By disseminating this research at public and academic venues, this work will help public and academic communities to better understand both the variability of agricultural practices of indigenous American societies in pre-contact North America and more generally the diverse ways in which societies adopt and use crops within their communities. <br/><br/>This research will investigate the spread of maize, bean, and squash and the changing role of maize in different communities within a single region by identifying the first appearances of these domesticated crops and by identifying changes in maize cooking and consumption practices. When domesticated crops are introduced into a society does this necessarily cause the society to develop sedentary settlements? If so, how long does it take for sedentism to develop? Do foraging societies that already practice sedentism incorporate domesticates into their societies faster than mobile societies? How do food processing and cooking techniques change over time and how might these relate to mobile or sedentary residence patterns? To investigate these questions, the researchers will analyze microscopic plant remains extracted from ancient food residues on ceramic pots spanning roughly 2,000 years from sites in Southern New England, USA. Societies in this region practiced diverse agricultural strategies and lived in communities that were mobile and sedentary to varying degrees. This cultural diversity will allow the researchers to examine these questions in depth through a comparative study. Using microscopic plant remains, researchers will identify the first appearance of maize, bean, and squash and, through comparing microscopic plant remains to whole plant seeds found at the sites, identify changes in the way that maize was cooked over time in different parts of the region.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Lauren Andrews
University of Connecticut
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