Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ancient Manioc Husbandry

Finding this item from 2007 gives us an important snapshot of a key crop in the American tropics and informs us that key crops easily moved between the Amazon and Central America as one would reasonably expect but was disputed because of a lack of evidence. The existence of a properly laid out Manioc planting bed whose human component is utterly beyond any reasonable dispute assures us that Manioc culture was a certain staple throughout Central America as well as South America.

It also helps to explain the economic viability of the ditch and bank agriculture that supported the Maya. Manioc is a huge producer of starch on a per foot basis and rotated with the three sisters and the use of ditch mud as fertilizer we have an extremely productive and secure food system fully justifying the implied labour.

The lack of draft animals forced the Indians to become hyper efficient in the use of their backs and these growing methods including the planting beds found by the archeologists tell us this.

I am actually surprised that the use of manioc was not uncovered with routine pollen analysis long since, but that may well be shrouded in the archeological record with conflicting evidence.

First Ancient Manioc Fields In Americas Discovered

ScienceDaily (Aug. 24, 2007) — A University of Colorado at Boulder team excavating an ancient Maya village in El Salvador buried by a volcanic eruption 1,400 years ago has discovered an ancient field of manioc, the first evidence for cultivation of the calorie-rich tuber in the New World.

The manioc field was discovered under roughly 10 feet of ash, said CU-Boulder anthropology Professor Payson Sheets, who has been directing the excavation of the ancient village of Ceren since its discovery in 1978. Considered the best-preserved ancient village in Latin America, Ceren's buildings, artifacts and landscape were frozen in time by the sudden eruption of the nearby Loma Caldera volcano about 600 A.D., providing a unique window on the everyday lives of prehistoric Mayan farmers.

The discovery marks the first time manioc cultivation has been discovered at an archaeological site anywhere in the Americas, said Sheets. The National Geographic Society funded the 2007 CU-Boulder research effort at Ceren, the most recent of five research grants made by NGS to the ongoing excavations by Sheets and his students.

"We have long wondered what else the prehistoric Mayan people were growing and eating besides corn and beans, so finding this field was a jackpot of sorts for us," he said. "Manioc's extraordinary productivity may help explain how the Classic Maya at huge sites like Tikal in Guatemala and Copan in Honduras supported such dense populations."
In June, the researchers used ground-penetrating radar, drill cores and test pits to pinpoint and uncover several large, parallel planting beds separated by walkways, said Sheets. Ash

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