The museum facade

Research :: ARCHAEOLOGY LABORATORY :: Current Research :: John Hart

Crop Histories

Cooking Residues
The Museum's "Three Sisters" Life Group

The major goals of this project are to establish (1) a history of the three principal agricultural crops used by Native Americans in New York: maize (Zea mays ssp. mays), bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), and squash (Cucurbita pepo) and (2) an evolutionary explanation for the development of the polycropping system that included these three crops. Much of the work to date has involved establishing the histories of the crops. This has included Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) dates on macrobotanical remains (Hart 1999a; Hart and Asch Sidell 1997; Hart et al. 2002; Hart and Scarry 1999) and the extraction and analysis of lipids, phytoliths and starches from AMS-dated charred cooking residues adhering to the interiors of pottery sherds in the Museum's collections (Hart et al. 2003, 2007b; Hart and Matson 2009; Reber and Hart 2008a, 2008b; Thompson et al. 2004). Another aspect has been the investigation of the potential functions of Cucurbita pepo gourds in northeastern North America during the Mid-Holocene (ca. 8000-4000 B.P.). The flesh of C. pepo gourds is extremely bitter and inedible as are the seed coats. The question, then, becomes, why was this plant so widely used during the Mid Holocene well north and east of its presumed native range? Two hypotheses were tested: (1) dried gourds were used as fish net floats (Hart et al. 2004) and (2) gourd seeds were processed to remove bitterness from the seed coats for consumption (Hart 2004). The experimental results indicate that both uses are feasible. Another aspect of the research has been developing theoretical frameworks for understanding the evolution of agricultural systems in northeastern North America. Initial attempts included developing a model for maize adoption and intensification (Hart 1999b, 2008) and a model of the relationships between maize and matrilocality among the northern Iroquoians (Hart 2001).

Dr. David L. Asch (New York State Museum)
Nancy Asch Sidell (Ethnobotanical Consultant, Maine)
Dr. Hetty Jo Brumbach (University at Albany—SUNY)
Dr. Gary W. Crawford (University of Toronto)
Dr. Robert A. Daniels (New York State Museum)
Dr. William A. Lovis (Michigan State University)
Robert Lusteck (University of Minnesota)
Dr. R.G. Matson (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Timothy Messner (Smithsonian Institute)
Dr. Eleanora A. Reber (University of North Carolina—Wilmington)
Dr. C. Margaret Scarry (University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill)
Dr. Janet K. Schulenberg (Pennsylvania State University)
Dr. Charles J. Sheviak (New York State Museum)
Dr. John Edward Terrell (The Field Museum of Natural History)
Dr. Robert G. Thompson (University of Minnesota)
Dr. Gerald R. Urquhart (Michigan State University)

Related Publications
Asch, David L., and John P. Hart. 2004. Crop Domestication in Prehistoric Eastern North America. Encyclopedia of Plant and Crop Science, edited by Robert M. Goodman, pp. 314-319. Marcel Dekker, Inc, New York.

Hart, John P. 1990. Modeling Oneota Agricultural Intensification: A Cross-Cultural Evaluation. Current Anthropology 31:569-577.

Hart, John P. 1999a. Dating Roundtop's Domesticates: Implications for Northeastern Late Prehistory. In Current Northeast Paleoethnobotany edited by John P. Hart, New York State Museum Bulletin 494, pp. 47-68. The University of the State of New York, Albany.

Hart, John P. 1999b. Maize Agriculture Evolution in the Eastern Woodlands of North America: A Darwinian Perspective. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 6: 137-180.

Hart, John P. 2000. New Dates from Old Collections: The Roundtop Site and Maize-Beans-Squash Agriculture in the Northeast. North American Archaeologist 21:7-17.

Hart, John P. 2000. Squash Down, Beans Up. Archaeology 53(1):18.

Hart, John P. 2001. Maize, Matrilocality, Migration and Northern Iroquoian Evolution. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 8:151-182.

Hart, John P. 2003. Rethinking the Three Sisters. Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology 19:73-82.

Hart, John P. 2004. Can Cucurbita pepo Gourd Seeds be Made Edible? Journal of Archaeological Science 31:1631-1633.

Hart, John P. 2007. A New History of Maize-Bean-Squash Agriculture in the Northeast. In Seeking America’s Past: An Introduction to North American Archaeology by Sarah W. Neusius and G. Timothy Gross, pp. 600-608. Oxford University Press. New York, New York.

Hart, John P. 2008. Evolving the Three Sisters: The Changing Histories of Maize, Bean, and Squash in New York and the Greater Northeast. In Current Northeast Paleoethnobotany II, edited by John P. Hart, pp. 87-99. New York State Museum Bulletin 512. The University of the State of New York, Albany.

Hart, John P., and R. G. Matson 2009. The Use of Multiple Discriminant Analysis in Classifying Prehistoric Phytolith Assemblages Recovered from Cooking Residues. Journal of Archaeological Science 36:74-83.

Hart, John P. and C. Margaret Scarry. 1999. The Age of Common Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) in the Northeastern United States. American Antiquity 64: 653-658.

Hart, John P. and Nancy Asch Sidell. 1996. Prehistoric Agricultural Systems in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River Basin, A.D. 800 to A.D. 1350. Northeast Anthropology 52:1-30.

Hart, John P. and Nancy Asch Sidell. 1997. Additional Evidence for Early Cucurbit use in the Northern Eastern Woodlands East of the Allegheny Front. American Antiquity 62: 523-537.

Hart, John P., David L. Asch, C. Margaret Scarry, and Gary W. Crawford. 2002. The Age of the Common Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) in the Northern Eastern Woodlands of North America. Antiquity 76: 377-85.

Hart, John P., Hetty Jo Brumbach, and Robert Lusteck. 2007. Extending the Phytolith Evidence for Early Maize (Zea mays ssp. mays) and Squash (Cucurbita sp.) in Central New York. American Antiquity 72:563-583.

Hart, John P., Robert A. Daniels, and Charles J. Sheviak. 2004. Do Cucurbita pepo Gourds Float Fish Nets? American Antiquity 69:141-148.

Hart, John P., Robert G. Thompson, and Hetty Jo Brumbach. 2003. Phytolith Evidence for Early Maize (Zea mays) in the Northern Finger Lakes Region of New York. American Antiquity 68:619-640.

Hart, John P., William A. Lovis, Janet K. Schulenberg, and Gerald R. Urquhart. 2007a. Paleodietary Implications from Stable Carbon Isotope Analysis of Experimental Cooking Residues. Journal of Archaeological Science 34:804-813.

Terrell, John Edward, and John P. Hart. 2008. Domesticated Landscapes. Handbook of Landscape Archaeology, edited by Bruno David and Julian Thomas, pp. 328-332. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California.

Terrell, John Edward, John P. Hart, Sibel Barut, Nicoletta Cellinese, Antonio Curet, Tim Denham, Chapurukha M. Kusimba, Kyle Latinis, Rahul Oka, Joel Palka, Mary E. D. Pohl, Kevin O. Pope, Patrick Ryan Williams, Helen Haines, and John E. Staller. 2003. Domesticated Landscapes: The Subsistence Ecology of Plant and Animal Domestication. Journal of Archeological Method and Theory 10:323-368.

Thompson, Robert G., John P. Hart, Hetty Jo Brumbach and Robert Lusteck. 2004. Phytolith Evidence for Twentieth-Century B.P. Maize in Northern Iroquoia. Northeast Anthropology 68:25-40.


Museum Open Tuesday-Sunday: 9:30 am to 5 pm | Carousel Hours: 10 am to 4:30 pm
Office of Cultural Education | New York State Education Department
Information: 518-474-5877 | Contact Us | Image Requests | Terms of Use
Join us on Facebook See us on YouTube See us on Flickr