Plant subsistence economies for native peoples in the Mojave Desert have been well-documented ethnographically and historically, but less so archaeologically. Ethnographic accounts taken from southern California Native Americans (Palmer 1878), including the Panamint (Coville 1892), Kawaiisu (Zigmond 1981), Timbisha Shoshone, and Southern Paiute (Fowler 1995; Kelly 1932–1934) report that Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia Engelm.), Mojave yucca (Y. schidigera Roezl ex Ortgies.), and other yucca species (all Asparagaceae) were harvested as reproduction progressed from early to late spring. Harvesting and processing methods varied between groups, but in general, immature and mature fruits were roasted in pits and stored for later consumption. The time depth of these subsistence practices, however, remains unknown because of a scant archaeological record. Recent archaeological excavations of several pit features yielded Yucca spp. seeds and fruit in association with fire-cracked rock (FCR) and charcoal. The mix of immature and mature seeds and fruits suggest some early spring gathering and processing, however the majority were collected later in the season. Thus, the archaeological evidence supports and elaborates on the ethnographic observations about Yucca as a food source. A combination of ethnographic and archaeological evidence allows for a more detailed and robust picture of past human behavior and dietary practices.
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Vol. 33 • No. 2