Assessing Diet and Seasonality in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands: An Evaluation of Coprolite Specimens as Records of Individual Dietary Decisions
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This dissertation presents an evaluation of coprolite specimens from the Lower Pecos canyonlands as records of individual dietary decisions. Prior studies of coprolites from this region have greatly expanded our knowledge of Archaic subsistence patterns, but have not taken full advantage of the record of individual dietary decisions recorded in each coprolite specimen. The menu, or dietary combinations, reflected in individual coprolite specimens are assessed through the identification of several congruent botanical components derived from the same food resource, phytoliths, fiber ultimates, and epidermal sheets. The data is analyzed with hierarchical cluster analysis, an exploratory statistical technique. The resultant menus reflected in these clusters are evaluated with reference to the diet-breadth model developed for the known staple resources of the canyonlands as well as the seasonal subsistence patterns observed in the ethnohistoric record of modern-day Mexico and Texas. This same technique is also applied to the coprolite data available from previous studies in the Lower Pecos canyonlands. Overall, the combined dietary data available for the Lower Pecos canyonlands presents a similar dependence on desertic plant resources throughout the Archaic. Three main menus are apparent in the specimens. The first menu consists of prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) cladodes, or nopales, and was principally, although not exclusively, consumed in the late spring. This menu is primarily consumed when other resources were not readily available and may be considered a dependable but undesirable meal. The second menu consists of pit-baked lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla) and sotol (Dasylirion sp.) caudices, or hearts, common throughout the cool season. This menu entails high processing costs, but would provide a reliable caloric return. The third menu exhibits a monolithic reliance on prickly pear fruits, or tunas, during the summer. The ease of harvest and consumption is reflected in the seasonal dominance of this resource, which was assuredly a highly desirable meal. The dietary patterns recorded in the coprolite specimens from the Lower Pecos canyonlands demonstrate a seasonally variable diet-breadth that incorporated low-ranked resources during times of seasonal scarcity as well as a monolithic dependence on high-ranked resources when they were available in the local landscape.
Individual dietary decisions
Optimal Foraging Theory
Riley, Timothy (2010). Assessing Diet and Seasonality in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands: An Evaluation of Coprolite Specimens as Records of Individual Dietary Decisions. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from