Hahn Highlights: Carbonized Corn
Posted On: 09/15/2017 - 12:05pm, Posted By: Tyler Swinney, NAGPRA Coordinator and Tribal Liaison
Welcome to the sixth installment of Archaeology Collections’ long-term blog series: Hahn Highlights!
In our last post we discussed an important agricultural tool commonly found at the Hahn Site – a shell hoe. Today we have a related artifact that was recovered during Cincinnati Museum Center’s Archaeology Field School at the Hahn Site: a large quantity of carbonized corn, or maize, discovered in Feature 200!
Identified in remote sensing surveys conducted from 2009-2010, Feature 200 was located on the eastern periphery of the Hahn Site and had a maximum diameter of 137.5 cm and maximum depth of 135 cm below ground surface. Containing large amounts of subsistence midden, No. 200 was filled with three distinct cultural horizons – A through C – and exhibited evidence for in situ burning in Horizon C, including nearly 100 liters of carbonized corn kernels, cobs, and husks, as well as wood carbon, burned soil, and fire-cracked rock.
One of the hallmarks indicating the emergence of the Fort Ancient societies during the eleventh century is archaeological evidence suggesting a greater dependence on floodplain agriculture. Floodplains, with mineral-rich alluvium that is periodically rejuvenated through seasonal flooding and soil that could easily be tilled by digging implements made from stone, bone, wood or shell, represented desirable locations for increased food production that could support larger, more sedentary populations. The primary cultigen for Fort Ancient communities was corn, but beans, squash, and chenopod, a plant with starchy seeds that is indigenous to North America, were also grown and agricultural produce was supplemented by hunting, gathering, and fishing. By at least the Middle Fort Ancient Period, collected and agricultural resources were stored in deep subterranean pits in order to mitigate seasonal fluctuations in wild resources availability and agricultural produce.
At the Hahn Site, Cincinnati Museum Center archaeologists have recovered evidence for agriculturalist subsistence practices, including carbonized corn, beans, and squash, as well as numerous subterranean pits thought to have been used to store agricultural resources. Carbonized corn is the most abundant cultigen encountered in CMC excavations and Horizon C of Feature 200 represents the largest deposit of carbonized corn encountered to date.
But, why is there so much carbonized corn in Feature 200? And, if pits functioned as subterranean storage facilities, why was the corn in Feature 200 burned and not collected? It is possible that the large quantity of carbonized corn in Feature 200 reveals some type of environmental calamity that compromised the integrity of the stored corn. That is, perhaps the corn that was stored in No. 200 was contaminated by opportunistic insects or rodents, or was soiled by exposure to mold or water. Regardless of how the corn in Feature 200 was damaged, it was burned in place during a single combustion event. Soon thereafter the pit was used as a discrete locality to discard subsistence refuse.