August 18, 2007

What the Bears -- and Boars? -- Will Be Eating

Maybe only wildlife biologists and hunters have kept the word mast in their vocabularies.

When I hear it -- or use it -- I feel transported back to the days of William Twiti, huntsman to Edward II and author of the earliest hunting book written by an Englishman, early in the 1300s.

To him, mast was food for swine wild and domestic. Here in southern Colorado, the oak mast is food for turkeys and bear -- although once, maybe eight years ago, I swear I saw a feral pig south of Pueblo Reservoir, standing next to Highway 96, black and lean. That sighting remains one of my wildlife mysteries.

If there were huntable numbers of wild boar, more people would be talking about this year's excellent mast crop, which just now is falling from the oaks.

Syre hunter, what schall be don to þe borre?
When þe borre is takyn, he schall be vndo all heerid.

Sir, what does one do with the Boar?
When the Boar is taken, he shall be undone in his hairy hide.


Anonymous said...

Actually Chas, archaeologists use the term too, especially in California and the Southeast where pre-agricultural peoples depended on acorns.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Soth, syre, but thine archaeologist bloweth not þe pryze when that þe Borre is ytaken.

I was going to hazard an archaeological post on acorns: how California acorns can be rinsed to edibility, whereas Colorado acorns cannot. Hence the necessity for pre-contact people here to be moving around and hunting more.

And were not acorns postulated as preceding grains in the early Mideastern Neolithic?

Anonymous said...

I've never heard that Colorado acorns can't be processed. Have you seen something about that? Higher tannin levels, maybe? I honestly don't think I've ever even discussed that with anyone, but I've been away from here for a while.

It's interesting, but it's only in recent years that archaeologists in the Southeast have come around to the view that acorns played a significant role in pre-maize subsistence. An old friend of mine, David Anderson, a professor at U of Tennessee, gave a paper at the SAAs two years ago where he said that Southeastern archaeologists should look to California ethnology for their analogs for Archaic social organization. There were obviously complex (chiefdom level) societies building mounds in the Southeast pre-agriculture (Poverty Point in Louisiana is a good example) and now "mast" is seen as a major part of the subsistence base.

Acorns are such a pain to process that it appears California Indians had to get pushed into using them by population pressure. It appears they much preferred milling grass seeds (there's a time period called the Millingstone Horizon) and you can see the two techniques coexisting, with acorns in the minority, for thousands of years. Then populations increase, and acorn processing takes over as the more common subsistence strategy

And I think you are right about the ME Mesolithic/Neolithic transition.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Although repeated rinsing, I am told, will make crushed California acorns palatable, I have always considered the Gambel oak acorns unpalatable to humans (based on limited personal taste tests). I do not think that the Indians ever even used them as famine food, but I could be wrong about that.

mdmnm said...

Two years ago was a huge acorn year on the Uncompahgre Plateau. The ground was nearly covered under many stands of Gambel Oak. We found acorns in grouse crops and I'm sure the bears and deer were nicely fat going into the winter.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I hope it's that good here this year. I will have my camera ready for the next bear-turd shot.