Past Imperial Foodways at the City of Huari (AD600-1000): Experimental Archaeology of Bean Identification
This project is a crucial part of the Past Imperial Foodways project in the McCown Archaeobotanical Laboratory at UC Berkeley. Over the past year, we have discovered that a major component of the diet in the early urban environment of Huari (capital of the Wari State of the highland Andes, South America) is the bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). This is a rare discovery in archaeological sites in the Americas, where we are certain that beans were important to pre-hispanic society, but because beans are typically valuable food that is soaked and boiled, they do not preserve well in the archaeological record. In order to understand why we have found beans as a majority of carbonized plant remains at the site, we must engage in experiments of processing, cooking, and burning a variety of beans and taking Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) images for comparing modern reference beans and archaeological specimens. We intend to understand whether the reason for their presence is related to a difference in cooking and/or processing traditions or if these beans are possibly a very ancient variety known as the popping bean, still farmed at a small scale in a few Andean communities that are cooked by dry toasting as opposed to the soaking and boiling process of the standard common bean. Following Spaeth et al. 1989, there are a number of diagnostic characteristics in the microstructure of the popping bean after it has been cooked that would enable us to identify it archaeologically for the first time.