Skip to comments.Ancient Corncobs Unlock Riddle
Posted on 10/14/2003 3:41:39 PM PDT by blam
Ancient corncobs unlock riddle
By MIKE TONER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Prehistoric populations in the American Southwest transported corn over long distances -- and used networks of "farm to market" roads that enabled them to support large cities in areas that were unsuitable for agriculture.
New studies of ancient corncobs show that large urban complexes like Chaco Canyon that thrived a thousand years ago in New Mexico imported corn from fertile farmlands that were 50 miles or more from major population centers.
Archaeologists have long wondered how the sophisticated Chaco civilization, which built huge multistory dwellings in the high desert of north-central New Mexico, thrived in such an arid climate. The answer, in a word: imports.
Earlier research established that the Chaco people hauled by hand a quarter-million logs from the slopes of the Chuska Mountains, 50 miles to the west, to erect their "capital" city, a site now known as Pueblo Bonito. Until now, however, the question of how they fed themselves had remained a puzzle.
"This is the first time we have been able to document the importation of a food crop," said archaeologist Linda Cordell, director of the University of Colorado Museum. "It's clear that these people had a highly coordinated system for planting, harvesting, storing and distributing food. This society was infinitely more complex than anyone ever imagined."
At its height, Pueblo Bonito is thought to have supported between 6,000 and 12,000 people. Excavations of the largest building have found hundreds of rooms, turquoise ornaments, unusual cylindrical jars, finely crafted spear points and icons of tropical birds from Central America.
Beyond the central city, a network of roads led to outlying villages that were scattered across more than 23,000 square miles of the San Juan Basin.
In the past, archaeologists had assumed that a more equable climate between the 9th and 12th centuries enabled the people of Pueblo Bonito to grow their food nearby. Tree ring analysis, however, suggests the climate has changed little in the last thousand years.
The latest findings, reported Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that prehistoric Americans were as adept at importing their food from distant locations as later cultures.
Maize, the ancient forerunner of modern corn, was the dietary staple of the Chaco culture. Because the cobs found at Pueblo Bonito contain distinctive ratios of trace elements from the crop's water source, scientists have been able to trace them to two widely separated regions -- both 50 miles from the central city. In one crop growing region, along the floodplain of the San Juan River, there are hints that the ancient farmers may have built many miles of ditches for water diversion.
The latest discovery attests to the value of preserving archaeological resources, no matter how insignificant they may seem. Corncobs used for the latest analysis were excavated from Chaco Canyon in the late 1800s and preserved in a museum collection.
Archaeologists say trace element analysis of preserved plant materials elsewhere in the Americas -- from seeds of foodstuffs to the grass used for baskets -- may open a new window on prehistoric cultures that left no written records, enabling them to link ancient population centers with the resources they used.
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I would suggest the tortilla chips and picante sauce. The tacos are meatless.
Yes, it's true. They were found up the rear ends of the skeletal remains of Liberals. 'Twas always such, it seems.
There are/were a lot of kivas/religious functions at Chaco. Maybe they were donations.(?)
Chetro Ketl (notice the large kiva, it's the round thing)
I am sure the peasants thought so. However I suspect that blam is right. A lot of religious activity went on in at Chaco. And a lot of astronomy.
How much would you give to have some one tell you the best time to plant (short growing season) and pray for rain? A tenth of your crop? Likely there was also a bit of barter as well and protection from other groups.
There was something out there that scared the tail feathers off of them. Real or imaginary that was one scared bunch at the end.
Yeah, that might provide me some motivation. But it would be interesting to know if the townfolk produced something. Homo economus or homo tyrannus.
DANG but this kind of writing annoys me!
"Deeply spiritual" does NOT equal peaceful!
Carthaginians, Aztecs, Pawnee, Celts were all deeply spiritual. They were not, however, peaceful or even nice.
It is very possible for the Anasazi to be artistic and deeply spiritual and still be the most savage cruel sadistic demons in human form to ever walk on planet earth.
I agree with Turner for the most part I will have to read more of his work to see if I totally agree.
The problem I have always had with the "peaceful people" bit is how they built their houses. You don't build houses where they did unless you have enemies. You don't build your home in such a way that a granny with a sharp stick can defend it unless you think that it could be necessary. You don't booby trap your ladders so that starting up the wrong way leaves you hanging hopelessly stuck until you fall to your death unless you expect something real nasty to come calling.
Something out there scared them.