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Karen R. Adams – “Food for Thought: The Deep History of Your Dinner”

September 21 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm MST (Arizona)

This Zoom lecture is free and open to the public but you must pre-register.

Any five-year old will tell you where our food comes from…the grocery store! But behind that simple truth is an extremely long history of human efforts to modify wild plants to make them more manageable, better tasting, and eventually highly productive. Human efforts at plant domestication began over 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and elsewhere.  People on most of the world’s continents domesticated a wide range of above-ground and below-ground plant parts, ranging from the stalk a leaf sits on (celery, rhubarb) to the corn, wheat, oats, rice, and barley grass grains that now feed the world. Some plants domesticated in prehistory (rampion, skirret) vanished over time, perhaps when better options came along. Multiple domesticates are known to have come from a single species: for example, in the Old World, different parts of the wild Brassica oleracea plant gave us cabbage, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. In the New World the fruit of wild Cucurbita plants were developed into pumpkins, zucchini, yellow, patty pan, and acorn squashes. Plant domestication is a process that can continue, as long as humans are interested in favored wild plants. Some current domestication efforts are focused in the DNA lab with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). This presentation illustrates that any single meal you sit down to eat today encompasses this world-wide long-term relationship between humans and the plants they tamed.

For nearly 50 years Karen R. Adams has analyzed plant specimens from archaeological sites in the US Southwest and northern Mexico. She trained in both Anthropology and Plant Sciences to best identify and interpret the often broken and burned plant remains from archaeological sites. Her three-decade association with Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in southwestern Colorado provided the setting for her to train summer student interns in archaeobotanical analysis and interpretation. Her publications examine the archaeological plant record at different levels including single plants, individual sites, regions, and the entire Southwest U.S. Her interests also include the arena of management/domestication of indigenous plants such as Little Barley (Hordeum pusillum) and a wild native potato (Solanum jamesii). She has recently written up her career reflections and is working on a series of short vignettes about specific career experiences.

Adams, Karen R. 
2004 Anthropogenic Ecology of the North American Southwest. In P. E. Minnis, ed., People and Plants in Ancient Western North America, pp. 167-204. Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C.
2014 Little Barley Grass (Hordeum pusillum Nutt.): A Pre-Hispanic New World Domesticate 
Lost to History. In New Lives for Ancient and Extinct Crops, pp. 139-179. Paul E. Minnis, editor. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Adams, Karen R. and Suzanne K. Fish
2011 Subsistence Through Time in the Greater Southwest. In The Subsistence Economies of 
Indigenous North American Societies, A Handbook. Bruce D. Smith, editor, pp. 147-183. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, Washington, D.C.
Kinder, David H., Karen R. Adams, and Harry J. Wilson
2017 Solanum jamesii: Evidence for Cultivation of Wild Potato Tubers by Ancestral Puebloan
Groups. Journal of Ethnobiology 37(2):218-240.


September 21
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm MST
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via Zoom


Paul Minnis