Potato use in North America

A study documents the use of wild potatoes in North America by dating preserved starch granules. Despite the diversity of wild potato species found in the New World, only a few archaeological records attest to the importance of wild potatoes as an energy source during prehistoric times. Lisbeth Louderback and Bruce Pavlik identified wild potato starch granules from ground stone artifacts at North Creek Shelter near Escalante, Utah. The authors extracted granules adhering to artifacts from archaeological deposits dating between 10,900 and 10,100 years ago, making this the earliest documented use of wild potatoes in North America. The authors identified 323 starch granules and used five diagnostic characteristics to identify nine of the granules as Solanum jamesii, a tuber-bearing species native to the American Southwest. An additional 61 starch granules were identified as likely S. jamesii because they possessed at least three diagnostic characteristics. Tools found in younger deposits, which were approximately 6,900 years old, also contained S. jamesii granules, indicating that Native Americans consumed S. jamesii intermittently for at least 4,000 years. According to the authors, botanical evidence can provide insights into the study of human diets and foraging behaviors.

Article #17-05540: “Starch granule evidence for the earliest potato use in North America,” by Lisbeth A. Louderback and Bruce Pavlik.