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Wyoming History





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Sediment samples were collected from a bone bed and an outhouse chinatown_map_thb.jpg (6320 bytes)at the Evanston Chinatown historic site (48UT1749) in southwest Wyoming. These samples were examined for evidence of pollen and starch granules that might identify both modern vegetation and food, for parasite eggs that might indicate parasite infestation, and for protein residues to identify possible animal proteins present in the sediments. The sample from an outhouse pit also was floated to recover macrofloral evidence of foods eaten by the privy users.  

Results from Last Years Pollen Analysis  



A chemical extraction technique based on flotation is the standardchinatown2.jpg (42645 bytes) preparation technique used in this laboratory for the removal of the pollen from the large volume of sand, silt, and clay with which they are mixed. This particular process was developed for extraction of pollen from soils where preservation has been less than ideal and pollen density is low.

Hydrochloric acid (10%) was used to remove calcium carbonates present in the soil, after which the sample was screened through 150 micron mesh. The sample was rinsed until neutral by adding water, letting it stand for 2 hours, then pouring off the supernatant. A small quantity of sodium hexametaphosphate was added to the sample once it reached neutrality, then the beaker was again filled with water and allowed to stand for 2 hours. The sample was again rinsed until neutral, filling the beaker only with water. This step was added to remove clay prior to heavy liquid separation. At this time the sample was dried then pulverized. Zinc bromide (density 2.1) was used for the flotation process. The sample was mixed with zinc bromide and centrifuged at 1500 rpm for 10 minutes to separate organic from inorganic remains. The supernatant containing pollen and organic remains was decanted and diluted. Zinc bromide was again added to the inorganic fraction to repeat the separation process. After rinsing the pollen-rich organic fraction obtained by this separation, the sample received a short (one hour) treatment in hot hydrofluoric acid to remove any remaining inorganic particles. The sample was then acetolated for 3 minutes to remove any extraneous organic matter.

A light microscope was used to count the pollen to a total of 100 to 200 pollen grains at a magnification of 400-600x. Pollen preservation in this sample varied from good to poor. Comparative reference material collected at the Intermountain Herbarium at Utah State University and the University of Colorado Herbarium was used to identify the pollen to the family, genus, and species level, where possible.

Pollen aggregates were recorded during identification of the pollen. Aggregates are clumps of a single type of pollen, and may be interpreted to represent pollen dispersal over short distances, or the introduction of portions of the plant represented into an archaeological setting. Aggregates were included in the pollen counts as single grains, as is customary. The presence of aggregates is noted by an "A" next to the pollen frequency on the pollen diagram. The entire microscope slide was scanned to look for the presence of parasite eggs.

Indeterminate pollen includes pollen grains that are folded, mutilated, and otherwise distorted beyond recognition. These grains are included in the total pollen count, as they are part of the pollen record.

Parasite eggs are known to be recovered and preserved in the pollen sample using this extraction method. If parasite eggs are contained in the sample, they are expected to be present in the microscope slide examined.

Results from 1997 excavation

Protein Residue

The sediment samples were tested for possible animal a.erik.bmp (475556 bytes)proteins using a technique referred to as cross over immunoelectrophoresis (CIEP or COE). The method for CIEP is based on forensic work by Culliford (1964, 1971) with changes made by Newman (Newman and Julig 1989) following the procedure used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Serology Laboratory in Toronto, Canada. Further changes were made at Paleo Research Labs following the advice of Dr. Richard Marlar at the Thrombosis Research Laboratory in the Denver VA Medical Center and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

One gram of soil was added to 1mL of a 0.02M Tris hydrochloride, 0.5M sodium chloride, and 0.5% Triton X-100 solution, then refrigerated for several days prior to testing. The extracted solutions were stored at 4EC using polypropelene microcentrifuge tubes. CIEP was performed using agarose gel as the medium. The samples were first tested against pre-immune goat serum (serum from a non-immunized animal) to detect non-specific binding of proteins. Non-specific binding is absent if a negative result is obtained. Samples were electrophoresed in Barbital buffer (pH 8.6) for 45 minutes at a voltage of 130v. Samples were then pressed and rinsed in 1M saline solution overnight to remove extraneous proteins.

The next morning, the gel was washed, pressed, dried, stained in a Coomassie Blue solution, then destained. Gels were observed to determine if non-specific binding was occurring. Positive reactions appear as a line of precipitation between the two wells. All samples tested negative against pre-immune serum and were then tested against the various antisera. The sediments were tested against prepared animal antisera obtained from ICN Pharmaceuticals and Sigma Chemical Company. Appropriate positive and negative controls were run for each gel. A positive control consists of the blood of each species tested, and a negative control consists of the blood of the species in which the antiserum was raised. Gels were electrophoresed, pressed, washed, dried, stained, and de-stained as before.

Positive reactions were re-tested with dilute antisera to determine between true and false positives. Antisera were diluted to increase specificity of reactions, usually 1:10 or 1:20. Positive reactions obtained after this step were reported.

Identification of animals represented by positive results is usually made to the family level. All mammalian species have serum protein antigenic determinations in common; therefore, some cross reactions will occur between closely and sometimes distantly related animals (Gaensslen 1983:241). For example, bovine antiserum will react with bison blood, and deer antiserum will react with other members of the Cervidae (deer) family, such as elk and moose.


The privy sample was floated using a modification a.spoon.bmp (493556 bytes)of the procedures outlined by Matthews (1979). The sample was added to approximately 3 gallons of water, then stirred until a strong vortex formed. The floating material (light fraction) was poured through a 150 micron mesh sieve. Additional water was added and the process repeated until all floating material was removed from the sample (a minimum of 5 times). The material which remained in the bottom (heavy fraction) was poured through a .5 mm mesh screen. The floated portions were allowed to dry.

The light fraction was passed through a series of graduated screens (US Standard Sieves with 2 mm, 1 mm, .5 mm and .25 mm openings) to separate charcoal debris and to initially sort the seeds. The contents of each screen were then examined. Charcoal pieces larger than 2 mm in diameter were broken to expose a fresh cross-section and examined under a binocular microscope at magnifications up to 140x. The material which remained in the 2 mm, 1 mm, 0.5 mm, and 0.25 mm sieves was scanned under a binocular stereo microscope at a magnification of 10x, with some identifications requiring magnifications of up to 70x. A portion of the finest material in the .25 mm screen was also examined under a magnification of 10x. The material which passed through the .25 mm screen was not examined. The heavy fraction was scanned at a magnification of 2x for the presence of botanic remains. Macrofloral remains were identified using manuals (Martin and Barkley 1973; Musil 1978; Schopmeyer 1974) and by comparison with modern and archaeological references. Estimates of seed and seed fragment frequencies were calculated from the sort of a portion of the total volume floated and are noted in the macrofloral table with an asterisk (*). The term "seed" is used to represent seeds, achenes, caryopses, and other disseminules. Remains from the light and heavy fractions were recorded as charred and/or uncharred, whole and/or fragments.


Pollen and macrofloral analyses of the privy deposits identified remains of several types of plants. Many of these plants represent potential and/or probable food resources, while others represent weeds and/or ornamental plants that probably grew nearby. These plants will be discussed in the following paragraphs to provide basic information concerning their origin and uses.

Edible and Economically Important Plants

Cerealia (Cereal Grains)

The Cerealia group consists of the economic a.drew.bmp (471056 bytes)members of the grass family including Triticum (wheat), Avena sativa (oat), Hordeum vulgare (barley), and Secale cereale (rye). These plants are part of the cereal grains that were named for Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. These seeds are noted to "have played a crucial role in human nutrition and cultural evolution" (McGee 1984:226). These grains are used to make beer and bread, which have been staples in the human diet since at least 3000 B.C. The cereal grains are concentrated sources of protein and carbohydrates and continue to provide the majority of the caloric intake for much of the world's population (Hickey and King 1981:436; McGee 1984:227-229).

Triticum (wheat) was one of the first cultivated plants, and it was the most important cereal in ancient Mediterranean civilizations. Today, there are over 30,000 varieties of wheat, and it is the most widely-cultivated plant in the world. Early wheat was parched, ground, and made into a gruel. It also was fermented to make a type of beer. The Spanish brought wheat to Mexico in 1529, where it spread as an agricultural crop among the native peoples. Wheat grows best in cool weather, so crops could be grown in winter during the traditionally scarce time of year. Wheat is used for making bread because wheat's storage proteins form a complex called gluten when they are ground up and mixed with water. Gluten makes the dough stick together and gives it the ability to retain gases, resulting in the ability to make raised bread. The three types of modern wheat most commonly grown are based on hardness of the kernel which is a measure of protein content. Durum semolina is the hardest and is used to make pasta products. Hard flour contains little free starch and is used for bread. Soft flour has a high starch content and weak gluten and is used for pastries, biscuits, cookies, and cakes (Heiser 1990:63-74; McGee 1984:234, 285-285).

Barley (Hordeum vulgare) was one of the first plants domesticated in the Near East. In addition to being a valuable food for both humans and animals, barley is important in making malt for brewing and distilling. Rye (Secale cereale) and oats (Avena sativa) are more recent domesticates. Rye usually is mixed with wheat to make bread, since it has too little gluten to make a good bread alone. Oats are highly nutritional, containing 15-16 percent protein and approximately 8 percent oils. Oats have been a popular breakfast cereal and also an important animal feed, particularly for horses (Heiser 1990:106-108).

Crataegus (Hawthorn)

Crataegus (hawthorn) are shrubs or small trees with sharp, pointed thorns on the stems and branches. There are hundreds of species in North America that all hybridize readily and all produce edible berries. Berries are usually red, but also can be yellow, orange, black, blue, or purple. Berries can be eaten raw or cooked in jams and jellies. Berries and flowers can be steeped into a tea that dilates coronary vessels, reduces blood pressure, and acts as a direct and mild heart tonic. Hawthorn acts to "normalize" the heart by either stimulating it or depressing it, depending on the need. Hawthorns are found in woods, thickets, wet meadows, and along streams (Angell 1981:83-84; Dorn 1992:264; Foster and Duke 1990:236; Kirk 1975:99-100).

Cucurbita (Squash, Pumpkin)

Cucurbita (squash, pumpkin) is a native of the Americas. Some species have been cultivated for 9000 years. Numerous varieties are now cultivated. Summer squashes, such as zucchini and yellow squash, are eaten when soft and immature. Winter squashes (acorn squash, turban squash, etc.) and pumpkins are allowed to mature into hard, starchy fruits which will keep for months (Hedrick 1972; McGee 1984:200).

Daucus (Carrot, Wild carrot)

Daucus carota (carrot, wild carrot, Queen Anne's lace) is the ancestor of the garden carrot. The cultivated varieties have larger and fleshier roots than the wild forms. These roots are eaten fresh or cooked as vegetables. Daucus carota is a biennial that was introduced from Eurasia. The plant is now widespread throughout North America and can become a troublesome weed. Daucus can be found growing wild in old meadows, pastures, dry fields, and waste places (Hedrick 1972:232; Muenscher 1987:325-327; Niering and Olmstead 1979:330).

Ficus (Fig)

Ficus (fig) is a native of Asia minor that was imported into the Mediterranean area and used by the Egyptians 6000 years ago. The fig reached the United States around 1790, although it was not commercially cultivated until the 1900's (McGee 1984). Figs can be eaten raw, preserved, dried and canned. Cultivated figs commonly are not grown in northern states.

Fragaria (Strawberry)

Fragaria (strawberry) is found naturally in both Eurasia and the Americas, with the American varieties producing larger berries. In the 18th century, a French engineer named Frezier brought some of the large American species back to Europe, and began breeding today's modern varieties (McGee 1984:183-184). Wild strawberries are smaller and more flavorful than the domesticated ones. The leaves and berries are rich in vitamin C, and a leaf tea was used to prevent scurvy and to treat diarrhea. Crushed wild strawberries also once were used to whiten the complexion, remove freckles, and as a treatment for mild sunburn (Ody 1993:60). Wild strawberries are perennial herbs found in meadows, fields, woods, hillsides, and forest edges (Angell 1981:20; Kirk 1975:90). Strawberries are commonly eaten fresh, or cooked in pies, jams, jellies, and preserves.

Lamiaceae (Mint Family)

The Lamiaceae (mint) family is characterized by square stems and hair-like oil glands on the surfaces of leaves and stems that are often used as flavorings. This is a large family of about 180 genera. Several members of the mint family are important culinary herbs including Ocymum basilicum (basil), Marjorana hortensis (marjoram), (oregano), Mentha piperita(peppermint), Mentha spicata (spearmint), Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary), Salvia officinalis (sage), Satureja (savory), and Thymus vulgaris (thyme). Mints also are useful medicinal herbs. Mentha (wild mint) is noted to be good for the stomach and antispasmodic. Scutellaria (skullcap) is a calming nervine that can be used to treat nervous conditions, menstrual problems, and epilepsy. Stachys officinalis (wood betony) is a relaxing herb for general use, Specifically, Stachys can be used for headaches, nervous disorders, digestive problems, and as a diuretic. A Leonuris (motherwort) tonic can be used for anxiety and heart weaknesses, nervous tension, or menstrual pain. Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) can be used to treat depression, tension, indigestion and other stomach problems, nervous exhaustion, and colds. Ocymum basilicum (basil) leaves are useful for treating insect bites. Prunella (self-heal) is widely used to stop bleeding, as well as to treat throat and mouth inflammations and diarrhea. Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) may be taken for colds, influenza, rheumatic pains, indigestion, and headaches. Thymus vulgaris (thyme) is an antiseptic expectorant that is good for treating chest infections. It also may be used for stomach disorders and diarrhea. Other species of mint also may be used medicinally, for oils or perfumes, as ornamentals, or they may exist as weedy herbs or undershrubs (Hickey and King 1981:350; McGee 1984:204-206; Ody 1993; Toussaint-Samat 1992:533).

Olea europaea (Olive)

The olive (Olea europaea) is a native of the Mediterranean region that has been cultivated since 3000 B.C. for food and for cooking, lamp, and cosmetic oils. Olives were introduced to California in the 1800s at Mission San Diego, and have been cultivated there since the 1900s for table olives and olive oil (Schopmeyer 1974:558-559). The majority of Mediterranean olives are used to make olive oil. Raw olives are not really edible due to a bitter glucoside called oleuropein which is often removed by treating the olives with lye. Greek olives are not treated with lye to remove the oleuropein, but rather are packed in salt or pickled in brine where they undergo lactic fermentation. Green Spanish olives are picked before they are ripe, treated with lye, then pickled in brine. California ripe olives are dipped in a ferrous gluconate solution to fix the pigment, treated with lye, packed in brine, then sterilized in the can which gives them a mild flavor (McGee 1984:203-204).

Prunus (Cherry, Plum, Peach, Nectarine, Almond, Apricot)

The Prunus group includes cherries, plums, peaches and nectarines, almonds, and apricots. These fruits are called stone fruits or drupes, and most contain large seeds surrounded by a hard coat composed mostly of lignin. Cherry, plum, peach and nectarine, and apricot pits all contain glycosides which break down into cyanide or prussic acid. A method of capital punishment in ancient Egypt involved eating the ground pits of peaches containing the acid (Lehane 1977:129). The acids are destroyed by cooking. While many species of native plums are found in the United States, most cultivated varieties are natives of Europe, west Asia, and Caucasus. Many of these fruits have been cultivated for thousands of years. Plums are eaten fresh, canned, or made into pies, cakes, jams, jellies and preserves. Wild plum species may be found growing in woods, prairies, fields, pastures, and along roadsides, fences and streams (Angell 1981:44-46; McGee 1984:183; Schopmeyer 1974:658-670). Peaches (Prunus persica) are natives of China where they were known to be cultivated in the 10th century B.C. Peaches were brought to Europe in Roman times, and seeds were sent to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England in 1962 were they established themselves quickly (Hedrick 1972:462). The many varieties of peaches are now primarily grown in the United States, South Africa, and Australia, and more peaches are canned than any other fruit (Lehane 1977:104; McGee 1984:183). Other than canned, peaches are eaten in a variety of ways including fresh, preserved, and in jellies, jams, and cobblers. Nectarines are fuzzless varieties of peaches and can be smaller. Nectarines and peaches can sometimes be found on the same tree (Hedrick 1972:464).

Ribes (Currant)

Ribes includes both currants and gooseberries. These small, deciduous shrubs may have red, yellow/orange, purple, or black berries. Currant bushes are generally thornless and the berries grow in long clusters, separate easily from their stalks, and are generally smooth-skinned. Gooseberries have one to three thorns at the bases of the leaf stalks, and the berries are bristly and firmly attached to their stalks. Currants are native to both North America and northern Europe. The species of currant grown commercially is a native of northern Europe that was brought to North America during colonial times. All species of Ribes produce edible berries, although some taste better than others. Currant berries are noted to be rich in vitamin C. Currants and gooseberries may be eaten raw, but are noted to be best when made into sauce, jelly, jam, pie fillings, and other baked goods. Ribes americanum berries also are used to make wine. Because currant and gooseberry bushes are alternate hosts to blister rust, which affects white pines, these plants have been eradicated around coniferous forests and are not as common as they once were (Angell 1981; Hedrick 1972:494-502; McGee 1984:185-186). The presence of Ribes pollen indicates that currants or gooseberries were eaten or that debris was put into the privy. Both currants and gooseberries tend to retain the dried blossoms until harvest, so it is possible to introduce Ribes pollen into the human digestive tract through eating currants and gooseberries, even if these berries have been cooked for jelly or pie.

 Results from 1997 excavations

Rubus (Raspberry Group)

The Rubus (raspberry) group also includes blackberry, cloudberry, dewberry, salmonberry, thimbleberry, wineberry and yellowberry. All species of Rubus produce edible berries that can be eaten raw or made into cobblers, jams, jellies and pies. The fruit also can be used in cold drinks, teas and salads and is easily dried and preserved. The fruit of some species is even used to make a liquor. The dried leaves can be used to make tea, and tender blackberry shoots can be added fresh to salads. Rubus idaeus (raspberry) was noted to be a favorite household remedy. A leaf infusion was used to treat mild diarrhea, as a gargle for mouth ulcers and sore throats, as a wash for bathing varicose ulcers and sores, and as an eyewash. The berries are rich in vitamins and minerals and traditionally have been taken for indigestion and rheumatism. Rubus plants are commonly found in sunny thickets and mountainous areas, especially at higher altitudes (Angell 1981; Hedrick 1972; Medsger 1966; Peterson 1977).

Solanaceae (Nightshade Family)

The Solanaceae (nightshade) family contains both edible foods and weedy plants. Capsicum (red pepper) are cultigens introduced from tropical America. This group has many different varieties including chilies, cayenne pepper, and pimentos. Fruits ripen to a yellow, red, or black color. Peppers are used to add a hot, spicy flavor to many dishes. Cayenne pepper may be used to stop bleeding or to treat sore throats, colds, chicken pox, backaches, and a number of other ailments (Hedrick 1972:135-135; Heinerman 1983:23-26; Kearney and Peebles 1959:755-756). Lycopersicon esculentum (tomato) was widely cultivated in Mexico and South America at the time of Spanish contact. The early introductions to Europe are believed to have been the large-fruited variety from Mexico. In Europe, the fruits acquired a reputation as an aphrodisiac and were called "love apples". It was not until approximately the mid-1800s that tomatoes began to gain popularity, and today there are several varieties with red, yellow, or green fruits. Tomatoes are high in vitamin C. In the United States, the tomato is second only to the potato in popularity. Tomatoes are consumed raw and used in sauces, stews, and soups. Tomatoes also may be included in preserves and jams, either alone or in combination with other fruits. The plant is very adaptable, sometimes re-seeding the following year in the garden or compost areas. Tomatoes are reported as "half-hardy annuals or short-lived perennials" (Phillips and Rix 1993:150). These plants grow best in a hot climate on fertile, well-drained, and moisture retentive soil (Hedrick 1972:343-345; McGee 1984:202). Solanum melongena (eggplant, aubergines) are perennials, but are usually grown as annuals. The wild form is native to India and has yellow, bitter fruits. The modern, large-fruited varieties are dark purple or black, but can also be white. Several varieties now exist (Phillips and Rix 1993:160-163).


Tables And References

Results from 1997 excavations 

* Paleo Research Laboratories: Denver, Colorado, Paleo Research Labs Technical Report 98-19          

 Prepared For Western Wyoming Community College Rock Springs, Wyoming, October 1998

To  contact Linda Scott Cummings send e-mail to


If you have any questions please feel free to contact Dudley Gardner.

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