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The functional dimensions of earth oven cooking: An analysis of an accidently burned maize roast at the C. W. Cooper site in West-central Illinois


Despite the prevalence of earth ovens, a subclass of pit features used for cooking, there is little consensus regarding how these cooking features were used or about the foodstuffs that were prepared in them. To provide a more detailed understanding of earth oven cooking in the archaeological record, we analyze the archaeobotanical contents, stratigraphy, and morphology of a cooking pit recently excavated at C. W. Cooper, an early Mississippian (A.D. 1150-1200) site in west-central Illinois in order to contribute to research on late Prehistoric foodways. Filled with nearly 100 ears of maize, this earth oven presents the opportunity to document the process of undertaking a maize roast. The volume of maize and its presence within a dense concentration of cooking, processing, and storage facilities allows us to consider the communal nature of outdoor earth oven cooking in the 12th century Central Illinois Valley and the socioeconomic dimensions of commensal politics more broadly during the Precolumbian era.

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