Originally published in Ancient American Magazine Issue # 105
When we think of ancient trade by ancient merchants, we usually think in terms of durable goods, that is, things or materials that have survived rot and decay to the present day. We think mostly of those things because it’s what we can see or touch. It’s not just earthworks, stone, shells, bone, metal, ceramics, or fabric, either. Pollens, foodstuff remains, wood, seeds, insect remains, domesticated plant and animal remains, paint, language, and the big one, DNA, drive our thoughts and are all are tools we can use to reconstruct some of the goings on of long ago merchants. Some of that trade was from farther afield and much more rapid in transit than most people ever dreamed.
In this article, plants are discussed that, until recently, had never been in the scientific literature as archaeologically significant to North America; Short’s Bladderpod and Cacao. Only the latter, The Hidden History of ... Best Price: $4.69 Buy New $10.40 (as of 05:10 EST - Details) cacao, has received any archaeological attention in the United States. And that attention is very controversial in nature.
Short’s Bladderpod, (Physaria globosa) a member of the mustard family, was added to the endangered species list on September 14th, 2014. And, for the Indiana population, it truly is at significant risk of extinction, because it only occurs along a short section of a little-traveled gravel road in one county, Posey County, the most southwesterly county in the state, where the Wabash and Ohio rivers converge. In other words, there is one small patch of it growing in the entire state of Indiana. However, it’s other fifty six known occurrences are also along or very near a major river, the Cumberland in three counties in east central Kentucky, and seven counties along the same river in north central Tennessee.(http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/countiesBySpecies.action?entityId=1831)
Short’s Bladderpod occurrence in Posey County, Indiana is problematic for botanists because the plant prefers dry limestone cliffs, barrens, cedar glades, steep wooded slopes, and talus areas. The Lost Colonies of A... Best Price: $6.78 Buy New $12.90 (as of 05:40 EST - Details) Where it occurs in Indiana is none of those things. Could it transplant by nature? Perhaps, but it should not even survive in the sandy loam of Posey County and if there were not a crushed limestone roadbed there, it probably would not. However, if we suspect that it was artificially transplanted, then we should look for cultural context that might indicate who, when, and why it was transplanted and what actions might have made it possible for this out of place plant to survive.`There may be hard evidence already.
Archaeologically, the most important site in Posey County is the Mann Site, one of the largest towns of the so called “Crab Orchard Culture”. And it’s very near the bladderpod site. During the Middle Woodland period, the Crab Orchard culture population increased from a dispersed and sparsely settled Early Woodland pattern to one consisting of small and large base camps. These were concentrated on terrace and floodplain landforms associated with the Ohio River channel in southern Indiana, southern Illinois and northwestern and western Kentucky. In the far western limits of Crab Orchard culture is the O’byams Fort site, a large tuning-fork-shaped earthwork reminiscent of Ohio Hopewell enclosures.Examples of a type of pottery decoration found at the Mann Site are also known from Hopewell sites in Ohio (such as Seip Earthworks, Rockhold, Harness, and Turner), as well as from Southeastern sites with Hopewell assemblages such as the Miner’s Creek site, Leake Mounds, 9HY98, and Mandeville in Georgia, and the Yearwood site in southern Tennessee. In other words, the Posey County, Indiana occurrence of this now endangered plant is also associated with an ancient riverine culture that lived along both those rivers a couple thousand years ago. That may very well be the “who” and the “when”. The “why” is more enigmatic. So is the “how”.
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