My research interests are focused on prehistoric human – environment interactions, particularly the relationship between prehistoric Native American subsistence systems and their impacts on the natural environment. I utilize paleoecological methods including the analysis of fossil pollen, spores, and charcoal from wetland and lacustrine sediment cores to understand the manner in which prehistoric peoples affected local ecosystems. My dissertation research uses paleoecological techniques to assess the timing and magnitude of landscape transformation – in the form of forest clearance and burning – associated with the transition from Middle Woodland foraging economies to Late Woodland swidden horitcultural systems (“Three-Sisters” farming of maize [Zea mays], beans [Faseolus vulgaris], and squash [Cucurbita spp.]) among prehistoric Iroquoian groups in New York State.
The Five Nations Iroquois or Haudenosaunee (“People of the Longhouse” – comprising the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca tribes) of Upstate New York were remarkable for the intensity of their farming, communal lifestyle, matrilineal extended families, and political confederacy, which served as a model for the government of a fledgling United States of America. Their culture was distinctive in these and other respects from most of their neighbors, who belonged to various Algonquian-speaking tribes such as the Mahicans and Delawares. Although the Iroquois have been studied intensively by archaeologists and cultural anthropologists, very little research has been conducted regarding the nature of the impacts of Iroquoian horticulture on the paleolandscapes of Upstate New York. My research attempts to fill this major gap in our scientific knowledge of New York’s original inhabitants.
A major goal of my research is to assess if there are perceivable regional and/or cultural differences in the intensity of maize horticulture and landscape alteration as seen through the paleoecological record. Historical and archaeological evidence currently suggest the existence of three distinct settlement-subsistence systems in New York State at the time of Euro-American settlement: (1) an Iroquoian horticultural system embracing much of central and western New York State; (2) a riverine system, centered in the Middle and Upper Hudson Valley, dependent upon fishing and supplemented by hunting, foraging, and moderately intensive maize horticulture; and (3) a coastal estuarine system focused upon saltwater fish and shellfish supplemented by hunting, foraging, and minimal maize horticulture. My dissertation research seeks to (1) determine if these settlement-subsistence systems have detectable and distinct paleoecological signatures that have been recorded in the sediment archives of wetlands and lakes; (2) determine if signal intensity is related to the differential use and modification of regional paleolandscapes by various cultural groups; (3) address unresolved chronological issues associated with the regional adoption of maize horticulture.
As a result of recent investigations that have revised the age of maize introduction into northeastern North America to ~2000 BP, another goal of my research is to determine if signals of incipient or “experimental” horticulture can be detected in the paleoecological record prior to the traditionally accepted date of ~1000 BP for the initiation of maize horticulture. Because the early introduction of maize into New York State coincides with a period of regional climate cooling (sometimes referred to as the “Neo-Boreal”), the ability to differentiate climatically-driven vegetation change from anthropogenically-driven change is critical to the evaluation of Native American landscape impacts – a subject of heated debate within the paleoecological literature.
Because my research is strongly interdisciplinary in nature, I routinely utilize a wide variety of data in my research, including archaeological data, ethnohistorical and ethnographic accounts of Native American culture, 18th and 19th century vegetation surveys, and modern ecological analyses. In short, I use whatever sources I can to shed light on the manner in which prehistoric populations interacted with the natural environment.
Beyond my interest in prehistoric human – environment relationships, I have research interests in biogeography, Quaternary paleoclimatology, and plant ecology.