Gourds and squashes

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Gourds and squashes (Cucurbita pepo L.)

Gourds and squashes include a variety of today’s pumpkins, summer and winter squashes, and ornamental gourds. They were among the first cultivated plants in the Midwest and among the earliest in eastern North America. One of the oldest dates for domesticated Cucurbita pepo comes from a site in south central Missouri where 5,100 year-old seeds are reported.

In Iowa early evidence of squash comes from rind found in a feature dating to the terminal Late Archaic at the Gast Spring site 2,800 years ago. It is commonly reported from Woodland through Late Prehistoric sites. Cucurbita is not native to Iowa and its presence at archaeological sites indicates it was being cultivated.

Ornamental gourds were probably used for containers, but the flesh of immature fruits was eaten by some Native Americans, and sliced and dried for later meals. Both the blossoms and flesh of squashes were cooked fresh, and cut, dried and stored for later use. Squash was boiled, sometimes with other plants and with meal. The flesh was also roasted. Seeds from boiled squash were eaten whole, but also were prepared by parching and roasting. The flesh, rinds, and seeds of Cucurbita species are nutritionally rich, high in protein and oil, and an important source of minerals especially potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Almost all of the sites illustrated on the map refer to plant remains believed to represent Cucurbita pepo. To date, bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria (Molina), has been positively identified at very few Iowa locations, although it is suspected. One such discovery comes from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century A.D. McKinney Oneota site (13LA1) in southeast Iowa.

Major References

Adrain, Tiffany S. 2003
Asch, David L. and William Green 1992
Asch, David L. 1996
Dunne, Michael T. 1997; 1995; 2000; 2002; 2005
Dunne, Michael T. and Green, William 1998
Green, William and Shelly Gradwell 1995
Hollinger R. Eric 1999
Idouraine, Ahmed , Edwin A. Kohlhepp, and Charles W. Weber 1996
King, Francis B. 1985
Powell, Gina 2005
Smith, Bruce 1996

Map of Iowa with orange and yellow dots that indicate prehistoric sites known to have cultivated squash

Iowa Sites
Site Number Major Reference Family Genus and Species Iowa Culture
13AM50 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo O
13AM403 Powell, 2005 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo MW/LW
13AM404 Powell, 2005 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo LMW/LW/O
13AM405 Powell, 2005 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo LW
13BN103 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo GO
13BN110 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo GO
13BV1 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE cf. Cucurbita pepo MC
13CF101 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo EW/MW/ELW
13CF102 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo ELW/LLW
13CK15 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo MC
13CK21 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo MC
13DA110 Green, 1995 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita sp. GO
13DA264 Asch, 1996 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo GO
13DB497 Powell, 2002 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita sp. TLW
13DK1 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo O
13DM140 Hollinger, 1999 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo O
13HA181 Dunne, 2000 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo LA
13LA1 Hollinger, 1999; Hollinger, 2005 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo O
13LA12 Dunne, 2002 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo MW/ELW
13LA38 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita sp. MW/ELW
13LA152 Dunne, 1997 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita cf. pepo LA
13LE110 Hollinger, 2005; Zalucha, 1999 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo MLW/O
13LE117B Zalucha, 1999 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo ELW
13MA209 Parker, 1990 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita sp. O
13MC15 Powell, 2002 CUCURBITACEAE cf. Cucurbita pepo LA
13ML124 Adair, 2010 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo G
13ML129 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo G
13ML138 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo G
13ML175 Adair, 2010 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo G
13ML176 Adair, 2010 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo G
13ML361 Green and Billeck, 1993 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo G
13ML637 Adair, 2010 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo G
13OB4 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo MC
13PM1 Adrain, 2003 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo MC
13PM25 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo GO
13PM50 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE cf. Cucurbita pepo GO
13PM91 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo LMW/ELW
13WD88 Dunne, 2005 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita pepo GO
13LA1 Hollinger, 1999 CUCURBITACEAE Lagenaria sicerara O
13PK165 Asch and Green, 1992 CUCURBITACEAE Cucurbita/Lagenaria sp. LW

 

Key
LA Late Archaic
EW Early Woodland
MW Middle Woodland
LMW Late Middle Woodland
ELW Early Late Woodland
LW Late Woodland
LLW Late Late Woodland
TLW Terminal Late Woodland
GO Great Oasis
MC Mill Creek
G Glenwood
O Oneota

Two photos of squash within its vines

Two photos of squash within its vines

 

Image Credit:​
Wendy and Michael Scullin
Melanie Riley and Mary Kathryn Rocheford, OSA (map)