Modeling Burned Rock Features as Units of Subsistence Intensification
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Subsistence intensification is the process by which humans expand their diet breadth to exploit lower ranked and more costly food resources to mitigate the effects of environmental or population stress. Earth ovens represent a critical technological adaptation by which humans can process toxic or otherwise inedible plant foods as a way of augmenting their diet. The Lower Pecos Canyonlands in southwest Texas is an arid landscape prone to seasonal drought and temperature extremes. As a response to longterm and periodic shifts in the climate, the prehistoric inhabitants of the region adopted earth ovens as a way to render the locally available desert rosettes, such as lechuguilla and sotol, edible. As a response to environmental stress, earth ovens and their surviving elements serve as a proxy by which subsistence intensification within a region can be measured. The current research examines the structural elements of earth ovens as a way of understanding the degree to which earth ovens and the plants processed in them contributed to the prehistoric economy. A methodology utilizing Pole Aerial Photogrammetry (PAP) is applied to the documentation of seven earth ovens in Val Verde County, Texas to record the feature parameters, the spatial distribution of burned rock, and individual weights of burned rocks. The collected data was analyzed to interpret the role of feature weight and the degree of burned rock fragmentation in measuring the frequency of use of earth ovens as well as the extent of intensification of the plants cooked in these features.