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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Revisiting the archaeobotany of Sand Canyon Pueblo : sampling and social context van Roggen, Judith


This dissertation revisits the archaeological record of Sand Canyon Pueblo (site 5MT765) to explore the effects of sampling and subsampling on the recovery and interpretation of ancient plant remains. Sand Canyon Pueblo is identified as an important Pueblo III period village (A.D. 1150-1350) located in the central Mesa Verde region of southwestern Colorado. Only briefly occupied in the waning years of the A.D. 1200s, the site is similar to other large neighboring late Pueblo III villages in its catastrophic depopulation. It stands out as unique in the area, however, for its bow-shaped multi-storied site-enclosing wall and distinctive D-shaped building. Both harken back to the massive architecture and apparent ideology of the previous period that saw its most powerful expression at Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The hearths, firepits, and middens of Sand Canyon Pueblo provide evidence of life lived in a time of deepening drought, violence and social upheaval. The archaeobotanical methods used to speculate on resource stress as a cause for social problems relied on one-litre sediment volumes and subsampling using a “species-area curve” approach. In experimental simulations and a re-analysis of archaeobotanical (paleoethnobotanical) samples from the site demonstrate that the richness of the plant record was underestimated. A statistically significant bias is imposed on the smallest of plant materials impacting the recovery of wild seeds and fragments, notably, ground maize. When re-evaluated through material culture and structural aspects of the site, a toolkit of pharmacologically active wild plants emerges, the significance of which is confirmed in Pueblo oral tradition that links medicinal plant use to community organization and leadership roles. Social values and the durability of social memory have been shown to be encoded in oral tradition and confirm deeply embedded mythic themes that have persisted through time, in language, and in practice. The symbolic underpinnings of Pueblo religion are present in the wild plant record, written on the architecture and imagery of Sand Canyon Pueblo, and confirm a direct, but previously unseen link with clan organization, medicinal plants and the mythic ideals of the historic and contemporary northern Pueblos.

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