Prehistoric plant use in the American Bottom: New thoughts and interpretations

Mary L. Simon, Kathryn E. Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


More than three decades of systematic archaeological research in the American Bottom region of southwestern Illinois have produced a continuous flow of new archaeobotanical information. Pioneering syntheses by Sissel Johannessen (1984 and 1988) offered the first insights into rich and complex relationships between prehistoric humans and plants in this region. Since that time, our appreciation for the depth and intricacy of prehistoric plant use strategies has grown along with the increasing specificity of new geographic and chronological botanical data. However, along with an enhanced appreciation, there is also the realization that some of the previous models of prehistoric cultural continuity were in error. Pre- Late Woodland Period occupations in the American Bottom area, especially, are best understood as a series of pulses rather than products of in situ cultural evolution. The non-continuous model has proven helpful in assessing apparent anomalies or inconsistencies in early prehistoric, Archaic through Middle Woodland, plant use patterns. Understanding of post-Late Woodland adaptive strategies has benefited generally from the sheer wealth of data, and also from greater attention given to context of that data. Although subsistence must continue to be a central focus of interpretive efforts, plant remains have also proven useful for examining broad issues of prehistoric economics, technology and ritual. In this paper, we present a revised synthesis of American Bottom archaeobotanical data, explore the revisions in terms of previous interpretations, and outline some ideas for new directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-257
Number of pages46
JournalSoutheastern Archaeology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology


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