A UT research associate will explore the transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture over the course of 5,000 years and the implications of this change based on findings from local archaeological sites.
Dr. Kandace Hollenbach of UT's Archaeological Research Lab will discuss this topic in her talk "Foragers and Farmers in East Tennessee: What Archaeological Plant Remains Can Tell Us About Prehistoric Lifeways" at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the McClung Museum Auditorium.
The plant remains that were analyzed in this discussion were recovered from the Townsend Archaeological Project in Blount County.
"We tend to think of archaeology as occurring in Egypt, Peru, Belize, Pompeii, but to know the breadth of the lifeways in East Tennessee and the depth in our own backyard broadens our world in time rather than space," Hollenbach said. "The locality of this project makes it more relatable and personal."
The East Tennessee Society of the Archaeological Institute of America is sponsoring the discussion and others throughout the year to generate interest in archaeology and stimulate research in the field.
Dr. Aleydis Van de Moortel, an associate professor in the Department of Classics and Secretary-Treasurer of the ETS, hopes people will become aware of the importance of this subject.
"Really, it made civilization possible," Van de Moortel said. "Hunter-gatherers were already manipulating plants, enabling them to begin the gradual process of settling down, leading us to where we are today."
The fact that this can be discovered through plant remains testifies to the significance of these findings. They give insight into how people organized into social groups and the mobility and size of these units.
"We analyze plant remains in order to say something about the kinds of food, activities and time schedules of these people," Hollenbach said. "'You are what you eat' really applies here and helps us get a picture of their lives."
Analysis of these plants also helps archaeologists gain better understanding of social groups that are less documented by history.
"Plant remains are windows into the everyday activities performed by women, children and the elderly who were the main ones processing these types of food," Hollenbach said. "It allows us to see a sphere of influence, the nitty-gritty of daily life that we don't normally reflect on when we analyze more male-oriented hunting tools."
Van de Moortel also finds the multidisciplinary aspects of this subject and the field of archaeology as a whole to be fascinating.
"Archaeological projects now involve people of different fields – botanists, zoo archaeologists, geologists and those involved in classics and anthropology," Van de Moortel said. "Because it bridges natural sciences and humanities, everyone is able to find their own niche."
Hollenbach stressed the relevance of this project to present day culture and lifestyles.
"Food is crucial in that it helps us connect with different societies through time," Hollenbach said. "Ethnic foods, foods from different parts of the world, are so popular now, and they help define the social structure and everyday activities of our own time."