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Dissertation Defense: Kathryn Frederick, “Food Storage, Decision-making, and Risk Management in Non-Sedentary Societies”

October 9 @ 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Join us as Kathryn Frederick defends her PhD Dissertation on October 9 from 10-12 in 155 Baker Hall.

Food Storage, Decision-making, and Risk Management in Non-Sedentary Societies

Food storage, or the act of extending the shelf life of foodstuffs, often formed an important part of the adaptations of certain small-scale hunter-gatherer and low-level horticulturalist societies. Research on storage in small-scale societies has, until recently, narrowly focused on determining the form and scale that food storage took, i.e. small-scale, portable storage or larger-scale, container or other fixed storage, and its relatedness to increasing social complexity.

An expanded and altered focus results in some alternative questions, such as: What were the technological risks associated with the storage technology? How was the risk in technology negotiated? Were other risk management systems utilized by hunter-gatherers in conjunction with food storage? Are there apparent patterns in the selection of food storage by hunter-gatherer groups?

For storage to be a risk-averse management strategy, the technology required for successful storage must be reliable. Knowledge of proper storage pit construction and food preservation techniques is required before the risk and uncertainty of food storage can be mitigated. Due to the increased front-end energy output, the risk associated with the processing and storage of the foodstuffs must be minimal, as compared to the seasonal risk of food scarcity and potential energy/caloric gain.

Subterranean storage pits appear in the archaeological landscape of the northern Great Lakes after ca. AD I 000 and tribal communities continued to use them through the historic period. During the late Late Woodland period ( ca. AD 1000 -1600), subterranean food storage containers were systematically used by tribal communities with a spatially and seasonally restricted fisher-forager-horticulturalist subsistence system to create a stable food supply. The act of food storage, actualized through the technology of subterranean storage pits, allowed groups to increase their communal capacity for survival, success, and regeneration; these capacities were stressed by the increasingly restrictive setting of the Late Prehistoric sociopolitical landscape.

Combining experimental archaeology, ethnographic and ethnohistoric data, along with archaeological data on food storage, this research examines the technology and behavioral patterns for use of subterranean food storage utilized by hunter-gatherers. This research aimed to understand the use of food storage through the perspective of the technology of the physical container and the decision-making behind this risk-management strategy. A series of experiments were performed to understand the technology and technical know-how required to create a risk-averse storage feature. Data was then collected on food storage practices, both past and present, across the globe. Factors, such as movement strategy, climate, environment, economy, and to a lesser extent socio-political triggers, were considered. These factors were then compared and analyzed for patterns in decision-making.

With a baseline for understanding the technology of storage and an evident pattern in storage use by hunter-gatherers, my research considered whether similar variables were at play in the Late Woodland period, and what other factors drove the decisions to store. The collected data exhibited two prominent patterns for storage use, reliant and redundant. When these patterns were applied to the case study of northern lower Michigan a model for storage practices and their effect on the larger settlement and subsistence practices was created. The proliferation in the use of food storage during the late Late Woodland indicates a socioeconomic shift that made the previously risk-prone act of storage, risk-averse. I argue that the northern lower Michigan Late Woodland people incorporated redundant food storage practices into their existing risk management strategies as a response to increased population and reduced territory.


October 9
10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Event Category:


155 Baker Hall


Department of Anthropology