Gayle J. Fritz, Ph.D.


Plant and Microbial Biosciences Program

  • 314-935-8588

  • 314-935-6687

  • 314-935-8535

  • 1114

  • 126 McMillan Hall



  • plant biology, ecology, paleoethnobotany, archaeology, agricultural origins

  • Analysis of archeological plant remains; evolution of agricultural societies; subsistence and cultural change

Research Abstract:

I work with archaeobotanical remains to answer questions about how people interacted with plants so that they could eat and drink well, manage their landscapes, restore and maintain health, perform rituals, negotiate trade relationships, and enhance many other economic and social activities. Much of my research focuses on processes of plant domestication and sequences leading to the development of agricultural systems worldwide, but especially in North America and Mexico. General concerns and approaches involve cultural, ecological, and biological aspects of subsistence change and continuity. I have conducted research in the Ozarks and elsewhere in the trans-Mississippi South (on pre- and post-maize agriculture), the Lower Mississippi Valley (transition to farming by complex hunter-fisher-gatherers), the American Bottom region (biologically diverse Cahokian farming systems), and the Greater Southwest (earliest farmers in Chihuahua and Hohokam amaranth use). Certain plants continue to grab my attention, notably grain amaranth and chenopod, maygrass, tobacco, and hickory nuts. I was fortunate to collaborate with Cherokee colleagues in eastern Oklahoma in interviewing modern makers of ku-nu-che, the traditional hickory nut soup, gaining ethnoarchaeological insights along with appreciation for the continuing relevance of ancient foods for American Indian people.

Recently I've become interested in foodways resulting from interaction between Native Americans and European colonizers. I am currently working at the Berry site in western North Carolina as a member of the Exploring Joara archaeological project. The Berry site was the location of the native town of Joara, where Juan Pardo built Fort San Juan in January, 1567, and left it occupied by a contingent of Spanish soldiers until the early summer of 1568, when native people burned down the fort and killed the colonizers. Washington University students and I are completing analysis of the flotation samples in order to understand relationships between the Spaniards and the Joarans, especially native women who grew and prepared the corn that dominates the assemblage. This is a rare opportunity to supplement the meager written protohistorical record with information about foods that played a major role in decision making, negotiation, and ultimately resistance.

Selected Publications:

Merrill WL, Hard RJ, Mabry JB, Fritz GF, Adams KR, Roney JR and MacWilliams AC. The Diffusion of Maize to the Southwestern United States and its Impact. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2009 106(50):21019-21026.

Fritz GJ, Adams KR, Rice GE and Czarzasty JL. Evidence for Domesticated Amaranth (Amaranthus) from a Sedentary Period Hohokam House Floor at Las Canopas. Kiva 2009 75(3):393-418.

Fritz GJ. Paleoethnobotanical Information and Issues Relevant to the I-69 Overview Process, Northwest Mississippi. In Times River: Archaeological Syntheses from the Lower Mississippi River Valley, edited by Janet Rafferty and Evan Peacock 2008 pp. 299-343. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Fritz GJ. The Transition to Agriculture in the Desert Borderlands: An Introduction. In Archaeology Without Borders: Contact, Commerce, and Change in the U.S. Southwest and Northwestern Mexico, edited by L. D. Webster and M. E. McBrinn 2008 pp. 25-33 University Press of Colorado, Boulder.

Fritz GJ. Keepers of Louisiana’s Levees: Early Moundbuilders and Forest Managers. In Rethinking Agriculture: Archaeological and Ethnoarchaeological Perspectives, edited by T.P. Denham, José Iriarte, and Luc Vrydags 2007 pp. 338-368. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek.

Last Updated: 8/3/2011 4:08:51 PM

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