Friday, September 13, 2019

Terms associated with Researching Peoples in the Prehistoric Americas


As a historian of North America during the period when Europeans began to colonize the area now the USA, I am intrigued with, almost obsessed with, when humans 1st appeared in the Atlantic coast area later settled by European colonists. How did these early peoples try to gain some control over the weather patterns & geography? Did they create physical spaces to meet their basic needs for shelter, food, family, health, & safety. How did they organize their society & culture? Did they migrate on foot or water to these sites? Did they create myths & religions? Humans have a history of constant migration, confrontation, & adaptation for hundreds of thousands of years. And, of course, different populations around the planet adapted to different conditions in different ways. If we are trying to trace early inhabitants of the Americas, we need to become familiar with the terms used to describe the period before written history. BWS


Arable: Land favorable to the cultivation of crops or land upon which crops are grown.

Archaic: The Archaic cultural period (7500 B.C. to 1000 B.C) is divided into subperiods
Early Archaic (7500 B.C. - 6000 B.C.),
Middle Archaic (6000 B.C. – 3500 B.C.) and
Late Archaic (3500 B.C. – 1000 B.C.) sub periods.

Archeobotany: Or Paleoethnobotany is the study of archaeologically-recovered plant artifacts to
interpret how people in the past used and interacted with plants.

Clovis: A distinct Paleoindian group originally named for a distinctively shaped fluted stone spearpoint used to hunt megafauna. The Clovis people are generally regarded as the earliest human inhabitants of the New World.

Cultivation: The act of growing plants.

Dichotomous Key: Is a tool that allows the user to determine the taxomonic identity of items in the
natural world, such as plants and animals. The key is a written device constructed from a series of
organized statements which represent mutually exclusive choices. Identification is made by selecting
choices based on the user’s comparisons with unknown specimen until a conclusion is reached.

Domestication: The process through which a plant (or animal) is adapted to life in close association
with and to the benefit of humans.

Eastern Woodlands: The temperate forests zones of eastern North America stretching from the
Mississippi River east to the Atlantic ocean, and excluding the tropical forests of the south.

Extinct: A plant or animal species which no longer exists.

Extirpated: A local extinction, where a species ceases to exist in one area, but still exists elsewhere.

Flotation: A process to separate organic remains from archaeological soils.

Holocene: Is a geological epoch which began approximately 10,000 years ago and continues into the
present.

Horticulture: The art and science of growing plants.

Husbandry: The act of caring for or managing plants and animals for human benefit.

Little Ice Age: A modest cooling of the northern hemisphere following a warmer era (the Medieval
Warm Period) and spanning from the 1500’s through the mid 19th century.

Ice Age: A geologic period of long-term reduction in the Earth’s temperature which results in an
expansion of the continental and polar ice sheets.

Light Microscope: Or optical microscope is a type of microscope which uses visible light and a system of lenses to magnify images of small specimens.

Mantle: A thick layer of molten rock on which the earth’s crust floats.

Megafauna: Specifically, the Pleistocene Megafauna, the giant land animals of the last ice age like
mammoth, mastodon and giant bear which are now extinct.

Morphology: The form (structure, shape, color, pattern) of an organism or of a part of an organism.

Non-Indigenous: A plant or animal species that is introduced to a geographical area. Not native, an
alien or exotic species.

Paleoethnobotany: Or Archeobotany is the study of archaeologically-recovered plant artifacts to
interpret how people in the past used and interacted with plants.

Paleoindian: The Paleoindian cultural period (10000 B.C. to 7500 B.C.) was a time of radical climatic
change at the transition of the Pleistocene to the Holocene at the end of the last ice age.

Palynology: Is the science that studies fossil pollen and other palynomorphs (tiny organic-walled
micro-fossils).

Phytolith: Or plant opal silica bodies are rigid microscopic structures that occur in many plants. Silica
phytoliths vary in size and shape based on the plant taxon and plant part (root, stem, seed) from which they derive.

Radiocarbon Dating: A method of radiometric dating that uses the naturally occurring radioisotope
carbon-14 to determine the age of carbon-rich materials. Raw (or uncalibrated) radiocarbon ages are
reported in radiocarbon years Before Present (BP) (1950). Raw ages can be calibrated to give calendar dates in years A.D. (Anno Domini) or B.C. (Before Christ).

Reference Collection - Botanical: A collection of botanical specimens arranged and maintained in a herbarium for comparative purposes to aid in the identification of archeobotanical artifacts. Materials in an Archeobotanical Reference Collection are often treated to simulate archaeological conditions such as carbonization or water-logging.

Scanning Electron Microscope: A type of microscope that uses electrons to illuminate a specimen and create an enlarged image. Electron Microscopes can obtain much higher magnifications than light
microscopes.

Starch Grain Analysis: A methodology that uses microscopic starch residues preserved on artifacts (and in soils) to understand past plant use.

Tidewater: Applies to all geographic areas of Maryland where waterways are affected by tidal influence.

Wisconsin Glaciation: The most recent glacial period which began about 110,000 years ago, reached its maximum extent between 18,000 and 20,000 years ago, and ended between 10,000 and 15, 000 years ago.

Woodland: The Woodland cultural period (1000 B.C. - A.D. 1600) is divided into subperiods
Early Woodland (1000 B.C. – A.D. 200),
Middle Woodland (A.D. 200 – A.D. 900)
Late Woodland (A.D. 900 – A.D. 1650)

Thanks to Maryland's Jefferson-Patterson Park & Museum for their assistance.