Immovable food storage facilities, knowledge, and landscape in non-sedentary societies: Perspectives from northern Michigan


Physical food storage in immovable facilities, typically categorized as large-scale storage, is used as a scarcity mitigation strategy by some small-scale, relatively low density, non-sedentary hunter–gatherer (and low-level horticulturalist) societies. When mobile societies rely on immovable food storage facilities, they face particular technological and landscape placement challenges that must be navigated to reduce the risks of facility failure and realize scarcity mediation. We explore how the materiality and spatial positioning of immovable food storage facilities themselves can encode knowledge necessary for these facilities to form a reliable food storage system. We suggest immovable food storage facilities be understood as emplaced features, that is, as features whose placement in the landscape is the result of, but also subsequently the producer of, socioecological knowledge. We explore these ideas through a case study in the northern Great Lakes region. During the Late Precontact period (ca. AD 1000/1100–1600), socioeconomic shifts pushed communities into increasingly spatially and seasonally restricted annual mobility rounds. The region’s relatively low density, egalitarian, non-sedentary hunter–gatherer–fisher and low-level horticulturalist societies turned to physical food storage in immovable facilities, in the form of subterranean cache pits, to circumvent the risks posed by socioecological variability. Exploring one inland lake landscape in detail, we find cache pit storage facilities were purposefully planned and built in ways that successfully navigated the technological and landscape placement challenges of immovable food storage in this specific setting. We found the enduring presence and use of these immovable food storage facilities in the landscape encoded and transmitted knowledge about sustaining successful food storage across spatially and temporally dispersed groups. Cache pits were emplaced features that served to enhance community well-being in the increasingly restricted socioeconomic context of Late Precontact.


Earth Systems Research Center, Anthropology

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Journal of Anthropological Archaeology



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