Earth Ovens and Desert Lifeways

10,000 Years of Indigenous Cooking in the Arid Landscapes of North America

For over 10,000 years, earth ovens (semi-subterranean, layered arrangements of heated rocks, packing material, and food stuffs capped by earth) have played important economic and social roles for Indigenous peoples living across the arid landscapes of western North America. From hunter-gatherers to formative horticulturalists, sedentary farmers, and contemporary Indigenous groups, earth ovens have been used to convert inedible plants into digestible food, fiber, and beverages.
The remains of earth ovens range from tight, circular clusters of burned rocks, generally labeled “hearths” by archaeologists, to the massive accumulations of fire-cracked rock referred to as earth oven facilities, roasting pits, or burned rock middens. Remnants of these oven forms are common across the arid and semi-arid landscapes that stretch from Texas to California and south into Mexico. Despite the ubiquity of earth ovens from late Paleoindian times until today, and their broad spatial and cultural distribution, these features remain an under-studied aspect of Indigenous lifeways.

This edited volume explores the longevity and diversity of earth oven baking and examines the subsistence strategies, technological paradigms, and social contexts within which earth ovens functioned. It is the first study to cover such a broad geographic area, reflecting an array of promising research that highlights ongoing efforts to understand the archaeological record of earth ovens.

Charles W. Koenig is a North American archaeologist specializing in earth oven technology, rock art documentation, and Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry.

Myles R. Miller is a professional southwestern archaeologist who has spent nearly four decades investigating the prehistory and history of the Jornada Mogollon region of southern New Mexico and Trans-Pecos Texas, focusing on chronometric and ceramic compositional studies, earth oven technologies, landscapes, and ritual.

Contributions by Stephen L. Black, Leslie Bush, Douglas B. Craig, Eric S. Cox, J. Phil Dering, Daron Duke, Paul R. Fish, Suzanne K. Fish, Charles D. Frederick, Timothy Graves, J. Kevin Hanselka, Gary Huckleberry, James Kangas, Ken L. Lawrence, Spencer Lodge, Raymond Mauldin, Richard McAuliffe, Emily R. McCuistion, Sarah Rice, Byron Schroeder, Mark Slaughter, Richard Stark, Alston V. Thoms, Richard Walter, and Eric Wohlgemuth.

Praise and Reviews:

“This timely and much-needed collection of articles about hot-rock cooking adds dimension and richness to our understanding of the significance of this technique to landscape use, diet, technological systems, social organization, and traditional cultural values.”
—Pei-Lin Yu, Boise State University