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2015 Annual Workshops in Archaeology Program

Weed Seeds to Garden Seeds: The Archaeology of Farming in the Keystone State

Saturday, November 14, 2015
9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

The State Museum of Pennsylvania
300 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120-0024

Registration Form (PDF)

The Archaeology Section of The State Museum of Pennsylvania invites you to attend the annual Workshops in Archaeology on Saturday, November 14, 2015. This program is designed to provide the general public with an overview of archaeological discoveries across the commonwealth. This year’s theme is “Weed Seeds to Garden Seeds: The Archaeology of Farming in the Keystone State.”
In the eastern United States, Native Americans began to experiment with the domestication of plants almost 4,000 years ago. Many of the plants that we customarily see as common garden weeds are oily and starchy foods that were cultivated, harvested and eaten by Indians. The Eastern Agricultural Complex includes seeds and other plant parts that have been preserved in archaeological contexts. It is not known for certain if plants were actually domesticated or intensively gathered in the wild, but a dependence on them as food had a significant effect on the culture of these people. This dependence increased and by 1,000 years ago, maize was added to the diet and dominated the plant food subsistence of Native Americans in Pennsylvania. The presenters will provide data from the archaeological record that documents the contribution these foods provided to the evolution and development of farming in native and contemporary societies. Lastly, we will consider how our need to increase agricultural production for an ever-increasing population might impact and shape future farming practices.
In addition to the presentations, attendees can share their archaeological discoveries with staff from the Bureau for Historic Preservation who will provide assistance with artifact identification and recording archaeological sites, an essential task for protecting and preserving our archaeological heritage. An additional offering includes a demonstration by a master flintknapper who will make stone tools using Native American techniques. A reception at the close of the sessions will provide an opportunity for the attendees to meet with the presenters and museum staff in the Anthropology and Archaeology Gallery of The State Museum.

Session Descriptions

9:00 a.m.-9:10 a.m.
Opening Remarks – David Dunn, Director,
The State Museum of Pennsylvania

9:10a.m.-9:50 a.m.
[Session1] Eastern Agricultural Complex and the Three Sisters
Dee Ann Wymer - Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Schoolchildren are often taught about the Three Sisters (maize, squash and beans) as the main agricultural crops of Native Americans in the eastern woodlands, but few are familiar with the indigenous crops that were grown long before the famous triad became staples. The Eastern Agricultural Complex, one of the independent centers of plant domestication in the world, included a unique mix of starchy high-carbohydrate species, oily high-protein
taxa, and a set of ritually important plants (such as tobacco). These crops, domesticated from indigenous weeds, formed the basis for the remarkable early Moundbuilder cultures. This set in motion the intricate interplay of ancient
populations with their environment and built landscape, and ultimately led to the field agriculture observed during the Contact period.

9:50 a.m.-10:30 a.m.
[Session2] Late Woodland to Contact Period Farming Societies in the Upper Ohio Valley
Mark A. McConaughy - Regional Archaeologist, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Native American adoption of intensive maize agriculture for subsistence occurs during the Late Woodland/Late Prehistoric period in western Pennsylvania, dating from roughly 500 to1000 years ago. This gave rise to village-based societies collectively called the Monongahela in southwestern Pennsylvania and McFate and Meade Island in northwestern Pennsylvania. However, most of our information about maize agriculture from Western Pennsylvania
comes from Monongahela sites. Squash and gourds were part of the agricultural development and were grown long before maize horticulture started in Pennsylvania. Later additions to their diet included beans and
sunflower, and although not a food crop, tobacco was also cultivated for use in various ceremonies.

BREAK – coffee and snacks

10:45 a.m.-11:25 a.m.
[Session 3] Late Woodland to Contact Period Farming Societies in the Susquehanna Valley
Christina Rieth - Archaeologist, New York State Museum

The use of both weed seeds and cultigens was important to the Native peoples of Pennsylvania. Recent archaeological research has provided new information about the ways in which plants were used, their relationship to pre-Contact settlement, and timing of the appearance of such plants in the Susquehanna Valley. This talk will provide a summary of our current understanding of plant use in the Susquehanna Valley and how the use of weed seeds and cultigens influenced the settlement patterns of these groups during the Late Woodland and Contact periods.

11:25 a.m.-11:45 a.m. Questions and discussion

Lunch on your own - See boxed lunch options.

1:15 p.m.-2:00 p.m.
[Session 4] Late Woodland to Contact Period Farming Societies in the Delaware Valley
Michael Stewart -
Temple University and New Jersey Historic Preservation Office

The use history and importance of domesticates to native peoples is inferred from analysis of the archaeological evidence and shifts in community and settlement patterns that may be linked to farming. Maize is found throughout the Delaware Basin between 900 AD and1000 AD, but first appears in the Upper Delaware during the time from 687 to 895 AD. Squash/pumpkin may also be in use at this time, but the evidence is unclear. Maize, and perhaps squash/pumpkin, is originally gained as a result of interactions with groups in central and northern New York and southern Ontario. Beans are present in the archaeological record after 1300 AD. The use of domesticates varies within the region, having little importance to groups in the Lower Delware Valley. Bioarchaeological evidence indicates a greater reliance on maize than might otherwise be inferred.

2:00 p.m.-2:40 p.m.
[Session 5] Late Woodland to Contact Period Farming Societies in thePotomac Valley
Justine McKnight - Archeobotanical Consultant

The Potomac River Valley encompasses a diverse cultural landscape. The history of farming throughout the watershed during the Late Woodland and Contact periods is similarly nuanced. This presentation summarizes the transition to food-growing across the region and focuses more specifically on the role of maize reliance and agricultural intensification in shaping Native communities. The current picture draws heavily on well-organized floral datasets from Maryland and Virginia (from the Chesapeake Archeobotanical Database project [CHADB]), highlights floral assemblages from the Upper Potomac Valley, and contributes to our understanding of broader agricultural traditions in Pennsylvania.

BREAK – coffee and snacks

3:00 p.m.-3:40 p.m.
[Session 6] Pennsylvania’s Rural Farming Societies 1760 – 1930’s
Ken Basalik - CHRS Environmental Consultants Inc.

Botanical and faunal remains from historic period sites represent a wide range of items that are reflected archaeologically not only in the seeds and bones recovered from rural and urban sites, but also in the artifacts found. The use
of plants and animals and their place within the historic communities was constantly changing through time. This session provides an overview of changes in the botanical and faunal remains from the colonial period to the early
twentieth century.

3:40 p.m.-4:20 p.m.
[Session 7] Navigating a Critical Juncture
David Mortensen - Professor, Plant Sciences Department, Penn State University

Agriculture is at a crossroads. Large agriculture is getting larger: larger field sizes, larger farms, and seed companies purchased by an increasingly consolidated farm input sector. The syndrome of production associated with large farms includes increasing pesticide reliance, a high level of adoption of crops genetically modified to enable increased herbicide use and a reduction in crop diversity. Such a system has stifled selection and improvement of new crops and has contributed to a homogenization of the human diet. At the same time, the number of small farms is increasing and interest in locally produced foods is greater than ever. Here, interest in crop diversity is high and access to genetically
diverse, locally adapted seed is critical to its success. As we look to the future, we will need a hybrid model of locally produced fruits and vegetables for direct human consumption and a more sustainable and diverse commodity production
system. The presentation will detail the current state of our agricultural production system then highlight opportunities to shape a more sustainable production system going forward.

4:20 p.m.-5:00 p.m.
Closing remarks - questions and discussion
James Herbstritt, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

5:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. Informal Reception