Archaeobotany Research

Micro- and macrobotanical remains from archaeological sites provide biological clues to past climates and local resources that help define human subsistence patterns and how they fluctuated through time. We are exploring what plant resources people were collecting and consuming and how people coped with environmental change during the late Pleistocene and Holocene in western North America, with a particular focus on the Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin.

 

Current Research Projects 

 
Systematic study of starch grains  - Taxonomic identification of starch grains is critical to understanding human dietary patterns from archaeological contexts, but achieving high levels of confidence has been problematic. We are using morphometric and morphological techniques to develop a statistical approach for identifying starch grains.
Publications
Louderback L, Herzog N, Pavlik B. "A new approach for identifying starch granules of wild food plants from arid western North America." Starch/Stärk, 68 (2016) 1-7.
 
Ground stone technology and the processing of tuber plants - Intensive processing of small seeds on ground stone tools was not the only such practice by Great Basin and Colorado Plateau foragers. Tubers were also processed and possibly roasted. There are implications of starch processing with respect to the ecology of human diets during the Holocene.
Publications
Louderback L, Field J, Janetski J. "Curation practices and extraction methods in relation to starch grain yields from ground stone artifacts." Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 4 (2015) 535-540.
 
Ecology of human diets - The ecology of human diets has long been an issue in the prehistory of arid western North America. In an archaeological context, the human diet is an ecological phenomenon because it is about the supply, harvest, processing and energetic returns of plant and animal resources from natural ecosystems. In the NHMU Archaeobotany Lab, we examine the ecology of human diet using archaeological evidence from stratified sites in western North America.
Publications
Louderback L. "The ecology of human diets during the Holocene at North Creek Shelter, Utah." (doctoral dissertation, University of Washington).
 
Cultivation/domestication of wild plant species in western North America - The current paradigm for agricultural origins on the Colorado Plateau is that people adopted exogenous domesticates (i.e., maize, beans and squash) instead of manipulating native plant populations. We are currently investigating the use, transport and manipulation of a native potato (Solanum jamesii) as well as other plants (e.g., Chenopodium berlandieri) native to western North America.
Publications
Baker M. "Comparative morphology of Chenopodium berlandieri seeds and fruits from Cowboy Cave, Utah: implications for cultivation and domestication." (Master's honors thesis, submitted, University of Utah).
 
Paleoenvironmental research – Micro- and macrobotanical remains provide biological clues to past climates and local resources that help define subsistence adaptations and how they fluctuated through time. We explore how humans coped with environmental change during the late Pleistocene and Holocene in western North America.
Publications
Louderback L, Rhode D, Madsen D, Metcalf M. "Rapid vegetation shifts in the Uinta mountains (Utah and Wyoming, USA) during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene." Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 438 (2015) 327-343.
Louderback L, Grayson D, Llobera M. "Middle-Holocene climates and human population densities in the Great Basin, western USA." The Holocene 21 (2011) 366-373.
Louderback L, Rhode D. "15,000 Years of vegetation change in the Bonneville basin: the Blue Lake pollen record." Quaternary Science Reviews 28 (2009) 308-326.