Sunday, April 5, 2009

When Was Corn Domesticated?

Students Grinding Corn at an SRAC Event

Early man, the domestication of corn and the transition from "hunter/gatherer" to an agricultural society has been a hot topic in archaeology for a very long time.

Corn (maize) was domesticated from a wild grass that is found in Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua called teosinte. This wild grass has been proven to be the origin of domesticated corn, but the period of when this domestication occurred has remained elusive.

By analyzing starch residue in ancient grinding tools and charred remains in cooking pots, researchers now claim that they have found evidence that corn was being domesticated as much as 8,700 years ago. Even more impressive is that they have located a rock shelter in Mexico's Central Balsas River Valley that actually yielded evidence of domesticated corn and squash.

But wait a minute....

ROCK SHELTER...AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY? These two terms are not commonly used together! The people that used rock shelters are commonly referred to as the PaleoIndian/Early Archaic and agriculture is not thought to have been part of their lifestyle.

How this relates to the PaleoIndian/Early Archaic people who lived in our region will also be an interesting thing to watch for. If anyone has any info on the use of starch analysis in the Northeast, please send it to me so that we can learn more about this!

Journal references:

  1. Anthony Ranere, Dolores Piperno et al. The Cultural and chronological context of early Holocene maize and squash domestication in the Central Balsas River Valley, Mexico. PNAS, March 24, 2009
  2. Anthony Ranere, Dolores Piperno et al. Starch grain and phytolith evidence for early ninth millennium B.P. maize from the Central Balsas River Valley, Mexico. PNAS, March 24, 2009

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