Skip to comments.Ancient Andean Maize Makers: Finds Push Back Farming, Trade In Highland Peru
Posted on 03/05/2006 3:43:23 PM PST by blam
Week of March 4, 2006; Vol. 169, No. 9 , p. 132
Ancient Andean Maize Makers: Finds push back farming, trade in highland Peru
Nearly 4,000 years ago, large societies emerged in the Andes Mountains of southern Peru that would culminate 1,500 years later in the rise of the Inca civilization.
Now, scientists have the first evidence that these Inca predecessors cultivated maize and imported plant foods from lowland tropical forests located 180 miles to the east.
HIGH TIMES. Researchers excavate Waynuna, a site in Peru's Andes Mountains that has yielded evidence of early agriculture and food importing. D. Sandweiss/Univ. of Maine
Researchers have long theorized that ancient Andean civilizations exchanged goods with lowland sites. "Our results provide the earliest direct evidence of an important trade connection between highland and lowland sites in southern Peru," says archaeologist Linda Perry of the Smithsonian Institution's Archaeobiology Laboratory in Suitland, Md.
In the Andean highlands, maize previously had been dated only to 2,500 years ago.
Perry and her coworkers recovered fossilized, microscopic plant remains from soil samples and stone-tool surfaces at a highland site called Waynuna. Much of Waynuna consists of raised farm fields built around 1,200 years ago. However, the researchers focused their search on a house that they have partially excavated. Radiocarbon measurements placed the structure's age at between 3,600 and 4,000 years.
Perry's team identified 1,077 samples of either starch granules or silica-containing plant cells called phytoliths. Both granules and phytoliths come in distinctive forms that enable scientists to discern one plant species from another and to distinguish wild from cultivated plants.
Most of the plant remains examined came from maize, the researchers report in the March 2 Nature. Analyses revealed maize phytoliths from both leaf and cob. The leaf phytoliths provide a strong clue that Waynuna residents cultivated maize, Perry notes.
Many maize-starch granules displayed surface damage consistent with that produced by grinding with stone implements, such as those found at the site.
On one tool, the scientists recovered starch granules of arrowroot. This edible plant grows in lowland forests but not in mountainous regions.
Another stone fragment yielded the starchy remains of a potato. Potatoes can be grown at Waynuna's altitudeabout 2 miles above sea levelbut Perry's group hasn't determined whether the fossilized residues belong to a wild or a domesticated species. Given the site's location near modern potato and maize farms, "it wouldn't be surprising if [prehistoric] people were growing potatoes at Waynuna," Perry says.
Other investigators previously estimated that potato-starch granules found at Peruvian coastal sites date to between 4,000 and 3,000 years ago.
Waynuna lies near a major source of raw obsidian, a rock that held great symbolic meaning for ancient inhabitants of this region. Obsidian may have been traded for arrowroot and other lowland crops, such as peanuts and manioc, the researchers suggest. They plan to look for additional remains of lowland plants at Waynuna.
The discovery of imported arrowroot at Waynuna fits the theory that interactions among Peruvian coastal, highlands, and eastern-lowlands sites fostered the growth of early Andean societies, comments Yale University archaeologist Richard Burger.
"It's reasonable to suspect that a gradual uphill movement of maize, potatoes, and arrowroot into ever-starker environments transpired long before [their documented use at Waynuna," remarks archaeologist Michael E. Moseley of the University of Florida in Gainesville.
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Recent research in South and Central America has been pretty exciting. Lots of researchers have been going there in the last few years, far more than in past decades. I wonder if any of it has to do with Zawi Hawas making it nearly impossible to get a permit to dig in Egypt?
Gotta dig somewhere, right?
I don't know.
But, IMO, there is a lot more here to be discovered. For example, there are more pyramids in Mexico than the whole rest of the world combined...yet, you mention pyramids and everyone immediately thinks of Egypt. Incidently, the oldest pyramid in the world is in Greece, the second oldest is in Peru (Caral), also, the largest.
Not to mention the remoteness of the archaeological sites. These sites aren't in the open; they are buried in jungle. A city looks like just another patch of rain forest. Once something is found, the next massive problem is getting there. This stuff is being found literally in the middle of nowhere.
I agree that South and Central American civilizations do not get the respect that they deserve. Egypt and Mesopotamia had metal technology; the Americas did not. They were stone age. They didn't even have pack animals.
People wonder how the Egyptians built their pyramids? Try making larger, more complex structures without metal tools, horses, camels, or the wheel. They did it with stone knives and bearskins, literally. For them to do what they did with the technology that they had is truly amazing.
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Find of maize 4,000 years old.
It is interesting how much is converging on the 4,000 date. And now we have a new boloid crater in the desicated Iraq marshes, as well as the craters of the same age in Argentina, as well as disruption of nacent civilizations throughout the world. Tune in for more interesting finds.
In fact it is estimated that over 90% of all pyramid cities in south america is still unreasearched.
You can see many if you fly over them, as pointed hills sticking out from beneath the canope.
Except for the Old Copper Culture in the Great Lakes area.
Interesting. I knew that North American Indians used copper, but haven't read much about it. Thanks for the links. This stuff fascinates me.
I should have been more specific about what I said. I was talking about Central America and South America earlier, and I was too lazy to type it all out again, so I just said "the Americas". You are correct, "the Americas" includes North America. That's not what I meant, but that is what I typed. %-)
That's what I figured, judging from your posts. I put it up mostly for public info because a lot of people don't know about the Copper Culture. I didn't either until a few years ago and after I moved to Wisconsin.
Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.
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