“Small Things Forgotten”: From Acorn Foraging to Rice Agriculture in South China
The past can be seen most fully by studying what James Deetz calls “the small things forgotten.” Acorns, the nut of the oak tree, have been an important food source for many cultural groups across the Americas, Asia, and Europe for several thousand years. Despite this wide geographic range and long culinary history, many aspects of that food history still remain unknown. This talk introduces a history of acorn use in prehistoric China and its relation to the transition to rice agriculture. I argue that the acorn played an outsized role in this transition by attracting early Holocene foragers to settle down in more permanent settlements, to increase their material production, and to begin experimenting with rice cultivation, eventually leading to agriculture.