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Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Antiquity of Peruvian Maize
As I have inferred in the past, the Atlantean sea peoples emerged
around 5000 years ago and that naturally inferred significant crop
sharing as needed. Bio-char emerged in the Amazon and it also
demanded a maize culture. For those reasons the antiquity of Maize
in Peru really had to be approximately 5000 years. This is now
Let me explain again just why this is important. It provided natural
long term storage for food which allowed taxes to be paid in
something other that labor. That it also provided food security for
large urban populations is also a given but the idea of a large urban
center needs a taxable currency that everyone is expected to produce.
This regime drove all antique empires. Look for it and you will find
archaeologists have struggled with understanding the emergence of a
distinct South American civilization during the Late Archaic period
(3000-1800 B.C.) in Peru. One of the persistent questions has been
the role of agriculture and particularly corn (maize) in the
evolution of complex, centralized societies. Up until now, the
prevailing theory was that marine resources, not agriculture and
corn, provided the economic engine behind the development of
civilization in the Andean region of Peru.
research led by Field Museum curator Dr. Jonathan Haas is providing
new resolution to the issue by looking at microscopic evidence found
in soil, on stone tools, and in coprolites from ancient sites and
dated with over 200 Carbon-14 dates.
After years of
study, Haas and his colleagues have concluded that during the Late
Archaic, maize (Zea mays, or corn) was indeed a primary component in
the diet of people living in the Norte Chico region of Peru, an area
of remarkable cultural florescence in 3rd millennium B.C. Their
research is the subject of a paper that appears in the online Early
Edition issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
(PNAS) the week of February 25, 2013..
"This new body of
evidence demonstrates quite clearly that the very earliest emergence
of civilization in South America was indeed based on agriculture as
in the other great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and
China," said Haas.
Haas and his team
focused on sites in the desert valleys of Pativilca and Fortaleza
north of Lima where broad botanical evidence pointed to the extensive
production, processing and consumption of maize between 3000 and 1800
They studied a total
of 13 sites. The two most extensively studied sites were Caballete,
about six miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and consisting of six
large platform mounds arranged in a "U" shape, and the site
of Huaricanga, about 14 miles inland and consisting one very large
mound and several much smaller mounds on either side.
targeted several areas at the sites including residences, trash pits,
ceremonial rooms, and campsites. A total of 212 radiocarbon dates
were obtained in the course of all the excavations.
Macroscopic remains of
maize (kernels, leaves, stalks, and cobs) were rare.
However, the team
looked deeper and found an abundance of microscopic evidence of maize
in various forms in the excavations. One of the clearest markers was
the abundance of maize pollen in the prehistoric soil samples.
While maize is grown
in the area today, they were able to rule out modern day
contamination because modern maize pollen grains are larger and turn
dark red when stain is applied. Also, modern soil samples
consistently contain pollen from the Australian Pine (Casuarinaceae
Casuarina), a plant which is an invasive species from Australia never
found in prehistoric samples.
A majority of the soil
samples analyzed came from trash pits associated with residential
architecture. Other samples were taken from places such as room
floors and construction debris.
Of the 126 soil
samples (not counting stone tools and coprolites) analyzed, 61
contained Z. mays pollen. (In fact, Z. mays was the second most
common pollen found in the total of all samples, behind only pollen
from cattails which have wind-pollinated flowers.) This is consistent
with the percentage of maize pollen found in pollen analyses from
sites in other parts of the world where maize is a major crop and
constitutes the primary source of calories in the diet.
Haas and his
colleagues also analyzed residues on stone tools used for cutting,
scraping, pounding, and grinding. The tools were examined for
evidence of plant residues, particularly starch grains and phytoliths
(plant silica bodies). Of the 14 stone tools analyzed, 11 had maize
starch grains on the working surfaces and two had maize phytoliths.
fecal material) provide the best direct evidence of prehistoric diet.
Among 62 coprolites analyzed of all types - 34 human, 16 domesticated
dog, and others from various animals - 43 (or 69 percent) contained
maize starch grains, phytoliths, or other remains. Of the 34 human
coprolites, 23 (or 68 percent) contained evidence of maize. (The
second most common grain in humans came from sweet potatoes.)
Coprolites also showed that fish, mostly anchovies, did provide the
primary protein in the diet, but not the calories.
concluded that the prevalence of maize in multiple contexts and in
multiple sites indicates this domesticated food crop was grown widely
in the area and constituted a major portion of the local diet, and it
was not used just on ceremonial occasions. The research ultimately
confirms the importance of agriculture in providing a strong economic
base for the rise of complex, centralized societies in the emergence
of the world's civilizations.