Plants and People in Ancient Ecuador: The Ethnobotany of the Jama River Valley

Author(s): Deborah M. Pearsall

Year: 2004


"Plants and People in Ancient Ecuador: The Ethnobotany of the Jama River Valley" explores the interrelationships between the prehistoric residents of a small valley in coastal Ecuador (South America) and the dry tropical forest habitat in which they lived. The book has three related objectives. First, "Plants and People in Ancient Ecuador" is an ethnobotany, a work that explores how, through the medium of cul­ture, people shape and are shaped by the world in which they live. I take as my sub­ject the 3,600-year archaeological record of the Jama River Valley, northern Manabí Province, Ecuador, and determine what plants were selected for food, fuel, building materials, and ritual; evaluate the impact of agricultural activities on the tropical for­est environment through interpreting fossil indicators of past vegetation, in this case phytoliths (plant silica bodies); and examine the response of populations to volcanic ash fall disasters.

Second, this book allows me to synthesize results of some 10 years of National Science Foundation-funded research I conducted during the Jama Archaeological­ Paleoethnobotanical Project, for which I was coprincipal investigator with Dr. James Zeidler. While I have written book chapters and articles utilizing aspects of my find­ings, I have yet to synthesize the final results of my analysis of plant remains from 14 archaeological sites and 6 field seasons of observing modem agriculture in the valley. Before Jim Zeidler and I can test models of agricultural evolution, or apply our results to understanding the production of surpluses and the role this played in the evolution of chiefdom-level societies (the larger issues that drove our research), I need to understand the fundamental nature of plant-people interrelationships in the Jama Valley, and model the valley's agricultural potential. I accomplish these goals in "Plants and People in Ancient Ecuador" through an in-depth analysis of the archaeobotanical data from the early Jama-Coaque II phase, the best-preserved data set for the valley, and by analyzing maize and yuca yield data.

Third, "Plants and People in Ancient Ecuador" provides me the opportunity to illustrate the paleoethnobotanical research process, an important component of con­temporary interdisciplinary archaeology. I use the Jama case to illustrate how hypothesis-driven research is carried out, and explore the strengths and challenges of interdisciplinary research. I review basic paleoethnobotanical field and laboratory methods, and show how choice of methods influences results. I demonstrate how study of biological materials can contribute to our understanding of "big" issues such as population responses to natural disasters. As a practicing ethnobotanist and archaeologist, I bring to this book my personal perspective on doing research at the natural science "edge" of my discipline.

I have written "Plants and People in Ancient Ecuador: The Ethnobotany of the Jama River Valley" to be accessible in style and content to undergraduate students and beginning graduate students. I also hope the book will be of interest to advanced graduate students and professionals who follow the literature on South American archaeology (especially the tropical lowlands and Ecuador), the evolution of agri­cultural systems, adaptation to tropical forest environments, paleoethnobotany, and ethnobotany. I have tried to include sufficient detail to satisfy these readers and to address issues of broad relevance in our field.

Cite this Record

Plants and People in Ancient Ecuador: The Ethnobotany of the Jama River Valley. Deborah M. Pearsall. Case Studies in Archaeology. Boston: Cengage (originally Wadsworth/Thomson Learning); rights reverted to author 2020. 2004 ( tDAR id: 455787) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8455787

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 400 to 750 (Muchique 2 phase (early Jama-Coaque II))

File Information

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This pdf is a 100 dpi optimized scan of the author's copy of Plants and People in Ancient Ecuador: The Ethnobotany of the Jama River Valley. The rights to this work reverted to the author from Cengage in 2020.