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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Macrofossil and Starch Grain Evidence for the Use of Root Crops in the Owens Valley, California, Including Two Potentially Irrigated Taxa


The Owens Valley Paiute practice of irrigating wild tuberous plants was reported in early historical accounts and later by ethnographer Julian Steward and others. Despite the ethnographic evidence, archaeological traces of the root crops themselves have proven elusive until relatively recently. Excavations at four sites along the length of the valley have produced carbonized macrofossils of Cyperus esculentus (nut grass), which is believed to be taboose, one of the irrigated crops Steward reported. Many of the contexts with taboose macrofossils have been radiometrically dated and range in age from 2,300 years B.P. to statistically modern at a two sigma calibration. This paper examines the archaeological evidence for root crop use, consisting of carbonized Cyperus esculentus macrofossils from 17 contexts at four sites and samples of starch residues on groundstone artifacts from one site. These data are then examined in relationship to diachronic trends in plant use in the Owens Valley.

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