Seasonality, optimal foraging, and prehistoric plant food production in the Lower Mississippi in the Tensas Basin, Northeast Louisiana

Katherine McKisson Roberts
Dept. of Anthropology, Washington State University in St. Louis
July, 2006


Abstract: This dissertation research documents the emergence of farming, in the form of both horticulture and agriculture, in the Lower Mississippi Valley's Tensas Basin during Coles Creek (A.D. 700-1000) through early Mississippi periods (A.D. 1000-1400), and uses basic models and predictions from evolutionary ecology as the main interpretive framework. Assessment of archaeological plant remains using ranking (i.e., size) of food items offers testable hypotheses regarding Tensas subsistence patterns. As a result of testing these hypotheses, I provide some possible explanations of how and why Coles Creek fisher-hunter-collectors become farmers. Maize use is assessed vis-à-vis native starchy seed cultivation in the Tensas Basin, and possible ecological and historical explanations for Coles Creek and Mississippi subsistence patterns are formulated. An additional question is why the inhabitants of the Tensas Basin did not rely heavily on particular seed crops like their contemporaries living in the mid-latitudes. Comparison of the Tensas' subsistence to those of more northern sites indicates that seasonality may play an important role in influencing these sorts of patterns.