From the Archaic to Late Woodland cultural periods, there has been extensive use of Long Island’s maritime resources — fish, fowl, sea mammals, and shellfish — as well as small mammals, nuts, berries, tubers and extensive vegetable resources. Because of this rich food base, the gardening of domesticates here was late in time, less than 1,000 years ago (not long before the European ‘discovery’ of the region in the 1600s), and apparently not as extensive as elsewhere.
However, long before these domesticates were cultivated here, native women are known to have nurtured many plants — mallow, chenopodium, groundnuts (called ‘sagaponack’ locally), Jerusalem artichoke, etc. elsewhere and presumably here also. Evidence of the domesticated sunflower has been found in the southeast dating to over 4,000 years, and this is to the east of where domestication probably began, so there is little doubt it was also on Long Island.1
Three Sisters Plants – Corn, Bean, Squash
Maize (corn) horticulture is believed to have traveled to North America from Mesoamerica, but the squash family was indigenous to the midwest and southeast; the corn, beans, and squash cultigens apparently reached Long Island from the midwest, perhaps through extensions of the trade networks mentioned earlier. Archaeological evidence of maize horticulture on the Island is sparse, as no known “planting fields” have been found by the first settlers in Southold, Setauket, Oyster Bay, etc.1
Seafood was smoked and dried in preparation for winter. Roots were especially important in Winter.2
Roots were especially important in Winter. Tuber roots can be harvested in the late fall and during winter thaws and were a highly valued source of carbohydrates. The plant could be left in natural storage for the winter months when other food supplies might run low. Some Shinnecock still gather Jerusalem artichokes today. 3
- Gaynell Stone, Transcript of Lecture on The Material History of the Montaukett, 1998, pp. 2
- The Indians of Long Island, An Exhibition Presented by Suffolk County Historical Society, brochure
- John Strong, The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island from Earliest Times to 1700, pp 64
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