The University of Arizona

ASM Occasional Electronic Papers No. 1: Homol'ovi IV

Chapter Twelve:
Charred Plant Remains

Karen R. Adams

Previous Page | Next Page


Homol'ovi IV is a 150+ room pueblo along the Little Colorado River near Winslow, AZ. Initially occupied in A.D. 1250-1260, it was abandoned by A.D. 1300, or perhaps as early as A.D. 1280-1285. Situated initially on a butte, Homol'ovi IV occupants routinely tossed household debris down an adjacent slope, accumulating a midden of at least a meter depth at the slope's base. As the pueblo expanded from the butte top down over its slopes, people built additional structures on this midden. Roasting pits or hearths were frequently dug into the midden and utilized. At the base of the slope, a plaza area appears to have been used consistently through time, with occupation layers interfingered with midden debris.


During excavations in 1989, archaeologists routinely acquired flotation samples from Homol'ovi IV structures, the midden, and the plaza. A total of 20 flotation samples, ranging in size from 0.6-8.6 liters, were processed via water to separate and concentrate light fraction organic remains ranging in volume from 10-560 ml. For this study, the light fraction volumes of fifteen samples were examined entirely; for five samples with light fraction volumes over 135 ml, a minimum of 78% of the available material was examined. All items discussed in this report are charred, presumably due to prehistoric activities.


The plant record of Homol'ovi IV is relatively rich. A total of four domesticates (Zea mays, Cucur-bita, Phaseolus vulgaris and Gossypium) preserved (Table 12.1). Reproductive parts of 16 wild plants were also recovered, along with charcoal or vegetative parts of an additional 17 taxa. Maize dominated the record of foods in terms of ubiquity. Wild plants commonly utilized included bugseed (Corispermum) and ricegrass (Stipa) grains, along with other plants of weedy habitats, plus grasses. The most frequently recovered charcoal types, implying common reliance on wood for fires, are all riparian species such as cottonwood/willow (Populus/Salix), New Mexican privet (Forestiera) and ash (Fraxinus). Although many of the additional woods likely grew relatively close in prehistory, some (Pseudotsuga, Juglans, Quercus, Juniperus and Pinus) probably did not. These were either rare on the landscape, or were picked up as driftwood during flooding of the Little Colorado (Adams and Hedberg 2002). The recovery of a limited amount of Acer charcoal represents a new record for this area, as it was not reported in a survey of the archaeobotanical literature of this region (Adams 1996). Three common species of Acer (Acer negundo, A.glabrum, A. grandi-dentatum) all grow above 3500', sometimes along streams (Kearney and Peebles 1960), and apparently on occasion became available to Homol'ovi IV occupants as limited amounts of driftwood.

Table 12.1 Ubiquity of charred reproductive and non-reproductive parts in 20 flotation samples from Homol’ovi IV, organized in order of ubiquity.

Reproductive Part

Common Name




Zea mays cob, cupule, embryo, kernel

maize, corn


Phaseolus vulgaris seed

common bean


Cucurbita seed fragment



Gossypium seed



Wild Plants


Corispermum seed



Stipa caryopsis



Cheno-am seed



Cycloloma seed

winged pigweed


Gramineae Types 1,2



Portulaca seed



Gramineae Type 3



Yucca baccata seed

broad-leaf yucca


Cleome seed



Descurainia seed

tansy mustard


Euphorbia seed



Leguminosae seed, 2 types



Malvaceae seed



Scirpus achene




Charcoal, non-reproductive parts


Populus/Salix charcoal



Forestiera charcoal

New Mexican privet


Fraxinus charcoal



Allenrolfea charcoal



Chrysothamnus charcoal



Pseudotsuga charcoal

douglas fir


Sarcobatus charcoal



Atriplex charcoal



Monocotyledon tissue fragment



Monocotyledon stem fragment



Juglans charcoal



Juniperus charcoal



Quercus charcoal



Acer charcoal



Pinus charcoal



Artemisia charcoal



Juniperus twig fragment



Phragmites stem fragment



Rhus charcoal

lemonade berry


Unknown charcoal




Two Homol'ovi IV Structures, 201 and 301, were intact and complex. Both had hearths and multiple floors. Numerous artifacts on the floors of each suggested rather abrupt, non-planned abandonment, and no return. Two hearths in Structure 201 preserved charred plant materials suggestive of both foods and fuels. In the earlier hearth associated with Floor 2, a variety of annual seeds preserved, including cheno-am, Corispermum, Cycloloma, Gramineae Type 2 and Portulaca seeds. These resources are usually ripe in late summer/early fall, suggesting season of hearth use. No identifiable charcoal was recovered. In the later hearth, Corispermum seeds and Zea mays cupules suggest one food, plus use of maize cobs as fuel. Other fuels used in this hearth included Fraxinus, Populus/Salix, Rhus and Sarcobatus.

Plant materials in Structure 301 are equally diverse. Excavators recovered a wide variety of likely foods from the hearth, including cheno-am, Cleome, Euphorbia, Gramineae, and Yucca baccata reproductive parts. They also excavated domesticated maize cob and kernel fragments, plus a common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) seed. Again, the bulk of these remains reflect availability in the late summer/early fall. A diversity of fuel types present included Chryso-thamnus, Fraxinus, Populus/Salix, Pseudotsuga and Sarcobatus charcoal. Some are local dryland species, others riparian, and the Pseudotsuga was likely picked up as driftwood along the Little Colorado river.

A trashy layer in Structure 301 also contained debris of both foods and fuels. Monocotyledon tissue fragments with calcium oxalate crystals may represent a local species of Yucca, possibly Yucca baccata, also recovered as a seed from this locus. A Stipa grain hints that people were in the area in late spring/early summer, when rice grass is ripe. A Portulaca seed and charred maize cupules complete the list of reproductive parts. A total of seven charcoal types preserved in this trashy layer, revealing the broad nature of materials that were burned in thermal features.

Structure 2, a pit structure thought to rbe a ritual structure, was excavated near the top plaza surface, and is considered relatively late in the occupation of Homol'ovi IV. Two flotation samples preserved a moderate record of plant remains. Maize cupules were recovered from an ash deposit along with Forestiera and Populus/Salix charcoal, all likely fuels. From a pit excavators retrieved Gossypium seeds, grass stem fragments, and maize cupule and kernel parts, along with five charcoal types including Pinus. The Pinus wood may have been relatively rare in prehistory in the surrounding region, or came down the Little Colorado river during flooding.

Structure 5 was built on the uppermost midden/plaza surface and is also among the latest structures built at Homol'ovi IV, as is structure 10. From a fine, ashy layer in Structure 5, excavators recovered grass grains and maize cob and kernel fragments. Possibly maize kernels were roasted in the final event(s), which produced the ash. Five charcoal types also preserved, including Pinus type. An ash lens above the floor in Structure 10 preserved evidence of domesticates (maize, common beans) and wild plant use (Cycloloma, Gramineae), along with four charcoal types that were likely available locally.

Chapter: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Previous Page
Next Page