Gourds and squashes (Cucurbita pepo L.) 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.
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