Caries as an archaeological problem-solving tool: reconstructing subsistence patterns in late prehistoric west-central Tennessee

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Maria Ostendorf Smith
Tracy K Betsinger


The dentition from two Middle Mississippian period (~AD 1100-1350) site samples (Gray Farm [~AD 1150-1400], Link/Slayden [~AD 1200-1400]) from the Kentucky Lake Reservoir of west-central Tennessee area are examined for the presence of caries to assess whether a maize-intensive subsistence economy is evident or the retention of the cultivation of domesticated native seeds (i.e., the Eastern Agricultural Complex). Given the absence of archaeological context, the caries prevalence operates as an archaeological problem-solving tool. The caries prevalence by tooth type are compared to a Late Woodland period (~AD 400-900) site sample (Hobbs) from the Kentucky Lake Reservoir as well as three unequivocal maize-intensive site samples from the Late Mississippian period (~AD 1300-1550) of East Tennessee. The Gray Farm site aligns statistically with the maize-intensive samples; Link/Slayden does not and resembles the caries prevalence of the Hobbs sample. The Mississippianization process in the Kentucky Lake Reservoir clearly varies in the adoption of maize as a primary cultigen. This may reflect the difference in geo-political location of Gray Farm and Link/Slayden relative to neighboring Mississippian economies, particularly to the east (Middle Cumberland Culture), or it may reflect potential temporal differences among the Middle Mississippian period settlements within the Kentucky Lake Reservoir.



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