Life by the Lake: Plant Use in Late Owens Valley Prehistory
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Life by the Lake: Plant Use in Late Owens Valley Prehistory


Questions of social reorganization, the adoption and spread of novel technologies, and subsistence shifts have long been of interest to archaeologists, but especially those working in both California and the Great Basin. Over the last 1,500-1,000 years in Payahuunadü, today known as Owens Valley, significant social and political changes have been observed archaeologically for the populations who resided in this area. Our greater understanding of these large-scale social changes as observed archaeologically dovetail well with paleoethnobotanical studies in the region. However, two issues related to the body of paleoethnobotanical data available for the region are identified and addressed in this dissertation: 1) the region lacked a comprehensive synthesis of paleoethnobotanical data and 2) most of the archaeological investigation have been limited to the Highway 395 corridor, which has resulted in uneven coverage of plant use data, especially on the valley shore (e.g., along the shores of Owens Lake). This dissertation has three goals: 1) to synthesize existing data with regards to plant use from the late Newberry period (c. 3300 years Before Present [BP]) through the Contact period (c. 150 years BP); 2) to better understand how ancient residents of Owens Valley used locations in the valley beyond the modern-day Highway 395 corridor; and 3) to examine the adoption and spread of bow-and-arrow and ceramic technologies, two events separated by roughly 600 years, through a paleoethnobotanical lens. To address these goals, I have synthesized existing paleoethnobotanical datasets for the region to create a comprehensive dataset, as well as analyzed extant archaeological materials from four lakeside sites for inclusion in the regional dataset: 1) CA-INY-3806/H, 2) INY-7448, 3) INY-8768, and 4) INY-5207. This study considers the role resource intensification plays in social phenomena, including the sharing and storing of resources, and risk management and privatization, which have greater implications for the cascading effects of new technology, subsistence intensification, and social reorganization in the region. The spread of the bow-and-arrow around 1500 BP is hypothesized to have contributed to a social reorganization partially oriented around pinyon intensification. Thus, we would expect an increase in pinyon usage (as measured by an increase in archaeological pinyon abundance) between the Newberry and Marana periods. Similarly, if Newberry-era residents “underused” plants (Bettinger 2015:43), we might expect a more extensive, generalized plant assemblage in that era; this could look like greater usage of roots and tubers, which are often less energetically costly than seeds (Gremillion 2014). Later in time, correlated with the spread of pottery (c. 600 BP), privatization of other plant food is proposed to have happened in tandem with changes in land use, towards an increase in logistical mobility and use of more distant resources (Eerkens 2012b). In terms of land use, an increase in logistical foraging (where a forager travels afield in search of food before returning to a central base camp) could look like exploitation of environments beyond the immediate setting of the residential site. For example, in the Haiwee period, where foraging was potentially less logistical, we would expect there to be a higher degree of correlation between site environment (i.e., the environmental setting of the residential camo) and plant food environment (the environmental setting where the specific plant food is found). Residents of wetland sites would use more wetland plants, and upland sites would use more upland plants. In the more logistical Marana period, we would not necessarily expect this pattern; wetland sites could have plant foods from upland environs, and vice versa. The Owens Valley is located in eastern California, along the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This dissertation focuses on two periods in late Owens Valley prehistory: the Haiwee Period (1400-650 BP) and the Marana Period (650-150 BP), the latter which ended at Contact with Euro-American settlers. The earlier Newberry Period (3500-1400 BP) is also included to some degree, as it several important cultural characteristics emerged during that time relevant to the discussion from the other two time periods. This dissertation presents the results of the synthesized regional paleoethnobotanical dataset, which includes data from 40 sites dating between 3500 and 150 years BP. Lakeside plant use is specifically highlighted, via analyses from the four sites analyzed for this dissertation (previously listed). I specifically investigate ways in which people used these sites differently between the Haiwee and Marana periods, and what we can learn about settlement, mobility and seasonality of use from these datasets. The synthesis of prehistoric plant use in the Owens Valley (Chapter 5) was based upon all documented archaeobotanical assemblages to date, and further aimed to evaluate how plant use (e.g., use of seeds) changed between the Newberry and Late Marana periods, how the intensification of pinyon is reflected in plant use data on the valley floor, and how the intentional plant use by the inhabitants of the valley reflect how the changes in land and habitat use through time are reflected in people’s plant use. Plant foraging in the Newberry period seems to represent a generalized, logistically-oriented practice. Valley residents pursued a range of plant resources across the landscape, and brought those resources back to their base camp, leaving the ecologically varied plant assemblage seen archaeologically at Newberry occupations, including widespread, non-intensive use of pinyon. Plant use in the Haiwee period bears some striking similarities to the Newberry but with one notable exception: the rise in pinyon. By the Late Marana period, roughly 250-300 years ago, the domination of small seeds across assemblages, and presumably their use by valley floor residents, skyrocketed. Pinyon was still present, in amounts similar to previous times, but it seems clear that the plant subsistence focus of people living on the valley floor was seeds. Analyses of the data from the Lakeside sites in the study (INY-7448, -5207, -3806/H, and -8768; Chapter 6) was aimed to investigate if there was a difference in plant use by those living at lakeside sites vs. those who did not, if these sites were subject to seasonal occupation, if local plant use trends conformed to the valley overall, and if wetland plants were specifically targeted by residents. One of the most striking trends is the relatively low percentage of weedy pioneers throughout time. At lakeside sites, in some contrast to other regional sites, seeds did not comprise a significant portion of the diet until the Late Marana period. Wetland plant resources were differentially targeted by site residents. By the Late Marana period, it seems likely that lakeside sites were annually reoccupied, perhaps as places where pottery was cached and wetland seed foods were gathered and processed. However, by the early Haiwee period, pinyon had already been incorporated into the diet of lakeside residents, in such amounts as to suggest pinyon was being intensified by people. The primary contribution of this dissertation has been the generation of an extensive, synthetic dataset (Appendix A), comprising all known data regarding plant use in Owens Valley prehistory, building on previous research (Pierce 2002). The secondary contribution has been to add to the discussion of changing social and political organization in late prehistory, by looking at a crucial line of evidence – plant use visible through paleoethnobotanical analyses. This dissertation represents one more step toward improving our understanding how the residents of Payahuunadü made dynamic use of their surrounding landscape between 1500 BP and 150 BP, establishing a regional dataset that can provide a jumping off point for future researchers.

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