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Dissertation Proposal Defense for Kathryn Frederick

April 5 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Dissertation Proposal Title:    Food Storage, Decision-making, and Risk Management in Non-Sedentary Societies

Date:               Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Time:              1:00-3:00 p.m.

Location:        Room C103 McDonel Hall

Student:          Kathryn Frederick



Food storage, or the act of extending the shelf life of a foodstuff, often formed an important part of the adaptations of certain small-scale hunter-gatherer and low-level horticulturalist societies. Hunter-gatherer and low-level horticulturalists’ use of food storage is often overlooked in the archaeological record. Food storage is often seen as a back-up strategy, and as such, not often studied as a direct mechanism for decision making. I will argue that a) risk management (back-up) strategies are heavily influenced by societal factors, b) the decisions behind the use of food storage are strategically planned and organized, and c) food storage only becomes a useful risk management strategy when food storage as a technology is mastered. Knowledge of proper storage pit construction and food preservation techniques, both technologies, are required before the risk and uncertainty of food storage can be mitigated.

The northern Great Lakes region provides a robust location within which to explore the impact of food storage technology, because cache pits (subterranean food storage containers) are common archaeological features in the region. Subterranean storage pits appear in the archaeological landscape after ca. AD 1000 and tribal communities continued to use them through the historic period. During the late Late Woodland (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.

Combining experimental archaeology, ethnographic and ethnohistoric data, along with archaeological data on food storage, my research examines the technology of subterranean food storage utilized by hunter-gatherers and mixed horticulturalists. The proposed research aims 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. Additionally, data will be collected on food storage practices, both past and present, across the globe. Factors, such as mobility strategy, climate, environment, economy, and to a lesser extent socio-political triggers will be considered. These factors will then be compared and analyzed for patterns in decision-making.

Further, I set this research into the landscape of northern lower Michigan’s Late Woodland period. With a baseline for understanding why storage is selected in other, similar settings, my research will ask whether similar variables were at play in the Late Woodland period, and what other factors may have driven the decisions to store. This research will explore and refine understanding of the underlying factors that affected the decision-making behind the use of food storage. Ultimately, in this case study, I want to understand how storage technology was utilized. By giving primacy to the study of food storage we can begin to understand the risk-management decision-making around subsistence practices.


April 5
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm


103C McDonel Hall