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Direct Evidence for Geophyte Exploitation in the Wyoming Basin


Kaley Joyce, Lisbeth A Louderback, and Erick Robinson


In the Wyoming Basin, archaeological sites dating from the Early Archaic to Late Prehistoric are often found associated with or adjacent to dense populations of Cymopterus bulbosus (springparsley), a nutritious geophyte that would have been an important food source for prehistoric humans living in the region. Experimental data have shown that the caloric return rates of C. bulbosus were enough to support seasonal exploitation by foragers, yet there has been no direct evidence for the use of this geophyte from the archaeological record. In this study, we examine starch granules from 10 ground stone tools excavated from two stratified, multicomponent archaeological sites in the Wyoming Basin to determine if C. bulbosus was collected and consumed in the past. Taproots of C. bulbosus were collected from two populations in the immediate vicinity of the archaeological sites in order to develop a modern starch reference. Identification of Cymopterus starch granules is based on a systematic study of those reference granules. The presence of Cymopterus starch on the ground stone artifacts suggests that prehistoric foragers were collecting and consuming these geophytes. These findings support previous hypotheses about geophyte use in southern Wyoming and therefore have implications for increasing human populations as well as settlement and subsistence decisions.

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Last Updated: 12/14/21