This study will compare archaeological and isotopic characterizations of diet, specifically the role of maize, for Woodland, Mississippian, and Oneota populations from the North American midcontinent. Archaeological interpretations have tended to associate maize dependence with the rise of major centres, such as Cahokia. These models, based upon volume and ubiquity of maize in village site middens and features, frequently contrast the key role of maize in regional centres with the situation in smaller, remote communities. Mississippian inhabitants of frontier villages, for instances, are assumed to be less maize-dependent than their counterparts in larger and more complex communities. Recent analyses of stable carbon isotope ratios have, however, called into question standard archaeological interpretations. A series of δ13C values that characterize the period of agricultural intensification in the central Mississippi and Illinois river valleys identifies significant maize dependence at locations some distance from Cahokia during its period of major regional influence. Time transgressive trends apparent in maize ubiquity for the Cahokia region also stand in contrast to those seen in diachronic sequences of δ13C values. In this paper, we present newly generated δ13C values for five sites from the central Mississippi and Illinois river regions. Archaeological and isotopic evidence for maize-dependence is evaluated for biases that may underlie the seeming contradictory diachronic and synchronic patterning evident in the two data sets.
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