Using Deer Stable Isotope Data to Test a Niche Construction Hypothesis for an Increase in Prehistoric Human Maize Consumption in the Eastern Woodlands of the United States

Renée M. Bonzani, Katharine V. Alexander, Alexander Metz, Jordon S. Munizzi, Bruce L. Manzano, Matthew J. Davidson, Grace Farish, Andrea Erhardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Pollen records and macrobotanical remains indicate maize was grown minimally during the Middle Woodland (200 BCE - CE 500) in eastern North America. However, previous isotopic studies have found limited evidence of its consumption by people in archaeobotanical assemblages. Hypothetically, if deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) were feeding on maize (Zea mays L.) in gardens prior to its adoption as a human dietary staple, this may indicate a niche construction process which would later lead to shifts in hunting strategies. This construction of garden spaces or niches has implications for decreased mobility and greater investment in garden crops. To evaluate this hypothesis in the Ohio River Valley, we measured stable nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C) isotope compositions of bulk collagen in deer bones (N = 25) from archaeological sites spanning the Middle Woodland (200 BCE - CE 400/500) to Late Precontact (CE 1400-1630). Our hypothesis was not confirmed: little (one deer of 19) evidence for maize consumption occurred in the analyzed deer remains. Five deer of 19 did indicate the possibility of feeding in deeply wooded areas, reflecting canopy effect. Dog (Canis lupus familiaris L.) bone samples (N = 2) were also analyzed for these isotopes and one indicates some consumption of maize.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-276
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Archaeology
Volume27
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Association for Environmental Archaeology 2021.

Keywords

  • Deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann)
  • Eastern Woodlands
  • Maize (Zea mays L.)
  • Stable Carbon Isotopes
  • Stable Nitrogen Isotopes‌
  • middle to late woodland time period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)

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