Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology (PhD)

Degree Level





Kenneth L. Kvamme

Committee Member

Marvin Kay

Second Committee Member

George Sabo III


Social sciences, Earth sciences, Earthlodge Village, Fur trade, Geophysics, Native Americans, Plans archaeology, Remote Sensing


Maize was a fundamental component of the diet and economy of Middle Missouri Plains Village groups, sedentary farmers with settlements along the Missouri River during the last millennia. More than a century of study has contributed to our understanding of agricultural production among these peoples, but little effort has been made to consider temporal variation in production. Such an understanding is crucial to examining changes that occurred before and after the arrival of colonists and their trade goods in the seventeenth century. Plains archaeologists have suggested that the storage capacity of Middle Missouri villages increased during the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. In fact, the number and size of subterranean storage pits, ubiquitous features within most settlements, are thought to have grown during these centuries, which reflects greater agricultural production. To further examine changes in production and storage capacity during this centuries-long period, I combine information from historical documents, excavations, and geophysical investigations.

At Huff Village, a fifteenth-century community, excavations and magnetic gradiometry surveys reveal the size and distribution of storage pits. Their number and average volume suggest the villagers grew immense amounts of food and contributed to widespread intertribal trade. Furthermore, storage pit excavation data from 20 regional sites, dating from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, indicate pit volumes increased through the seventeenth century. A sharp decrease subsequently occurred during the eighteenth century due to epidemic disease. However, mean pit volumes were significantly larger during the nineteenth century, evidence of the resilience of Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras and the continued significance of maize. In fact, historical documents and remote sensing data suggest the Mandans and Arikaras, successive occupants of an earthlodge village near the American Fur Company’s Fort Clark, traded crucial resources, namely maize, to neighboring Native groups and fur traders during the early to mid-nineteenth century. While traditional colonial narratives describe the period in terms of culture decline and dependency, my study indicates the Mandans and Arikaras acted in their own self-interest and influenced and accommodated colonial fur traders along the Missouri River in the Northern Plains during the nineteenth century.