Joe Birkman Awarded NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Award

Departmental News

Posted:  Nov 22, 2021 - 12:00pm

Joe Birkmann (PhD Candidate, Archaeology) and his co-chairs, Dr. Bruce Huckell and Dr. Michael Graves, have been awarded a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Award towards his project entitled "Long Term Adoption of Agriculture."  Birkmann's dissertation will significantly contribute to our understanding of the adoption of agriculture in the Southwest, the multiple paths and trends that occurred in the Safford area thousands of years ago, as well as provide important data from disturbed, looted contexts.


The goal of this doctoral dissertation research project is to examine the adoption of domesticates in the US Southwest. Despite recent advances in the understanding of the relatively large farming communities that prehistorically inhabited the region and the pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer communities that preceded them, little is known about the transitional farming-foraging economies that separate the two. When did maize and squash first appear and how rapidly were they incorporated in foraging economies? How did the adoption of cultivation practices affect forager mobility patterns? What kind of small-scale cultivation strategies were utilized by these peoples? Questions like these are important not only to archaeologists in the Southwest, but to researchers and nonprofessionals across the globe who are interested in the myriad ways people adapted to life in arid-semiarid environments. The project will aid the Bureau of Land Management in discovering and managing cultural resources in a remote wilderness area. Further, the project will benefit regional stakeholders who will benefit from understanding the kinds of cultural resources present within the wilderness and their continued protection. Resources from this project will also be used to provide two graduate student assistants with valuable hands-on training in excavation, survey methods, and data management.

The project will utilize a multi-scalar approach grounded in human behavioral ecology to address the question. This project will advance research regarding the adoption of agriculture in two ways: 1) through the spatial analysis of relevant Archaic site locations and their implications for farmer-forager mobility and patch choice, and 2) the generation of a sub-regional paleoethnobotanical dataset from the BLM-managed Fishhooks Wilderness Area. Previous research within this wilderness recovered maize and squash remains; radiocarbon dating identified this location as one of the oldest maize-bearing sites in the Southwest and the only site to demonstrate that the introduction of maize and squash to the Southwest occurred either in tandem or with only a minor lag between the two. Data derived from archaeological survey of the greater Fishhooks Wilderness area as well as limited excavations at two dry caves throughout the wilderness will be used as a means to answer questions regarding the location of habitation and storage sites, the ubiquity of maize and squash cultivation during this time, potential field areas, and changes in agricultural practice over time.