The relationships between people and plants are complex and highly varied, especially in the mosaic of ecologies represented across Southeastern Mesoamerica. In studying plant use in the past, available technologies and methodologies have expanded and improved, allowing archaeologists to pursue more nuanced approaches to human-plant interactions and complicating previous models based on modern ethnographic accounts and indirect archaeological evidence. In this thesis, I explore various aspects of foodways and ethnobotanical practice in Formative and Classic Northwestern Honduras. My primary data are the actual paleoethnobotanical remains recovered from artifacts and sediments at four sites: Currusté, Cerro Palenque, Puerto Escondido, and Los Naranjos. These remains include microbotanical evidence in the form of starch grains and phytoliths, and macrobotanical evidence including charred seeds and wood.
Interweaving practice-based and linguistic-oriented approaches, I structure my work primarily in terms of paradigmatic and syntagmatic axes of practice, and how these two axes articulate. I view ethnobotanical practices in terms of possible options available (paradigms) in any given milieu and possible associations (syntagms) between elements. I ground my arguments in previous ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and archaeobotanical descriptions of plant practices and plant materials in Southeastern Mesoamerica.
In my study of 116 bulk macrobotanical flotation samples, 26 microbotanical sediment samples, and 21 microbotanical samples from artifacts, I pursue several pools of questions. Some questions have to do with rethinking how foodways are understood in ancient Southeastern Mesoamerica, and others treat how these foodways can be compared along different axes of activity. I focus on uses of underground storage organs (such as roots and tubers) and the broad spectrum of practices engaged by agriculturalists (including gathering from and managing non-cultivated areas), complicating the traditional maize-beans-squash model posited uniformly for Southeastern Mesoamerica.
The analytical portion of the thesis is organized along dimensions of human-plant activity: the spectra of ethnobotanical practices, the interplay between ethnobotanical practices and artifacts, contexts, and spaces, and the transformations and continuities in ethnobotanical practice over time. I also assess the complementarity of microbotanical and macrobotanical approaches in analyzing plant practices of ancient Southeastern Mesoamerica. I primarily focus on taxa richness, relative abundance, diversity of species, charred material densities, and associations between elements of botanical practices.
Some associations between elements of practice persist over time, implements, contexts, and spaces, while other associations shift, relative to transformations in paradigmatic options and/or syntagmatic associations. Broadly, there is a strong representation of underground storage organs such as calathea and manioc, and a wide diversity of plants referencing a wide array of practices. This spectrum of practice encompasses a range of action from the cultivation of domesticated cultivars to the processing of wild plants. Throughout this thesis, I argue for the utility of a linguistic practice-based approach in paleoethnobotanical analysis and the incorporation of multiple lines of paleoethnobotanical evidence, in assessing past foodways and human-plant interactions.