In the late 1970s I began the analysis of plant remains from several Archaic sites along the Green River in central Kentucky. I had joined Richard Yarnell’s lab team at UNC and he was a member of the SMAP project so he invited me to work on the collections with him. The Archaic sites, Carlston Annis, Bowles, and Peter Cave were part of a larger project directed by Patty Jo Watson and Bill Marquardt that was an expansion of the work at Mammoth and Salts Cave, KY. The research there documented a well developed food production system based on local crops and one crop that, at the time, was con
sidered introduced from Mexico but now is known to have been local (squash), Bottle gourd was grown too, but it was known to have spread around the world very early so, although it wasn’t local, it was not particularly foreign either. SMAP was established to sort out the events that took place before the Caves were occupied. The series of flotation samples I examined contained a vast array of plant remains that tell us about subsistence and the local environment during the Middle Holocene in the area.

One of the most important results was the recovery of small fragments of cucurbit (squash or egg gourd) from many layers in the shell mounds. It was present in the area well before the Cave occupations. This was the first time the plant had been confirmed in such an early archaeological context in eastern North America. At the time we felt that this indicated contact with Mexico and the diffusion of crops northward from there. This was an assumption based on our knowledge at the time. As it turns out, the assumption needed to be critically assessed. Today we know that these remaiins are from a native squash that was on its way to being domesticated, if not already domesticated. The final monograph on the project was published in 2005 (see my publications list).


Cucurbita rind micro-structure