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2016 Lisbeth Louderback and Bruce Pavlik
September 24, 2016 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
The Archaeology and Conservation of the Four Corners Potato
Could Utah be home to the earliest known domestication of a wild native plant? We have been examining that possibility through archaeological and botanical studies of the Four Corners potato (Solanum jamesii), a species found in southern Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. The work has highlighted the importance of collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to complex problems in deep time.
Drs. Louderback and Pavlik predict that at certain archaeological sites there are remnant populations of this species, descended from strains that had once been subjected to domestication processes. With the demise of the cultural groups that originated and maintained them, these earliest crops ceased to exist and reverted back to what now appears to be wild.
Although once ubiquitous in Escalante (which the pioneers called “Potato Valley”), S. jamesii is now hard to find on the landscape. We are partnering with the USDA/ARS US Potato Genebank to incorporate population genetics into a conservation strategy for archeologically associated outposts of the species in the Four Corners region. By establishing the cultural significance and potential agronomic importance of S. jamesii we hope to facilitate conservation through better land management practices and local outreach.
Dr. Lisbeth Louderback is Curator of Archaeology at the Natural History Museum of Utah and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at University of Utah. Her research interests include archaeology and archaeobotany of the arid western North America. Dr. Bruce Pavlik is Director of Conservation at Red Butte Garden (University of Utah) and Principal Scientist at BMP Ecosciences. His research concerns conservation and restoration of native plants and ecosystems.