The contribution of ethnobotany and experimental archaeology to interpretation of ancient food processing: methodological proposals based on the discussion of several case studies on Prosopis spp., Chenopodium spp. and Cucurbita spp. from Argentina
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- Capparelli, A., Pochettino, M.L., Lema, V. et al. Veget Hist Archaeobot (2015) 24: 151. doi:10.1007/s00334-014-0497-4
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The purpose of this paper is to discuss recent methodological advances in Argentinean archaeobotany that incorporate the use of ethnobotany as an ethnoarchaeological tool for interpreting ancient food systems in South America. This is an integrative paper that takes into account both published and unpublished results. The role of ethnobotany is examined with reference to ethnobotanical and experimental food processing studies on Prosopis, a wild food plant, and two cultivated ones Chenopodium quinoa and Cucurbita spp., followed by laboratory examinations with microscopy to identify diagnostic changes in plant morphology and anatomy. Experimental materials are then compared with archaeological specimens to identify different types of ancient food processing, and to make inferences about prehistoric post-harvest systems. We demonstrated that: (a) it was critical for our food processing studies to achieve the best taxonomical identification resolution that the plant remains allow; (b) a multi-proxy approach was highly advantageous; (c) ethnobotanical data were crucial to identify food processing pathways of individual plants and combinations of them; (d) the understanding of commensality in the wider sense of the term allows us to determine food patterns both in domestic and funerary contexts. These investigations, the first ones of this type in Argentina, constitute a qualitative step in the methodology for this country because they expand our abilities to interpret the nature of routine plant processing from archaeobotanical assemblages, and they are also a substantial contribution to the development of our discipline in general because the taxa discussed in this paper are distributed throughout South America, as well as in other parts of the world.