Skip to comments.An origin of new world agriculture in coastal Ecuador (12,000 BP)
Posted on 02/14/2003 1:34:27 PM PST by vannrox
Contact: Dr. Dolores Piperno
New archaeological evidence points to an independent origin of agriculture in coastal Ecuador 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Suddenly, the remains of larger squash plants appear in the record. The Las Vegas site, described by Dolores Piperno of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and Karen Stothert, University of Texas at Austin in the February 14th issue of Science, may predate plant domestication sites in the Mesoamerican highlands.
The fertile and amazingly diverse lowland tropics seem like a likely place for agriculture to develop. But few plant remains survive mold, high temperatures and rainfall. Luckily for archaeologists, one of the ways that plants protect themselves from herbivores and pathogens is to form hardened pieces of silica in their cells. These distinctive inclusions remain as tiny plant fossils called phytoliths, after plants die and decay.
Large phytoliths correspond to the large fruits of domesticated plant varieties in comparison to the smaller phytoliths present in their wild relatives.
Piperno and Stothert compared phytoliths from squash fruits they found in sites on the Santa Elena peninsula in Ecuador to others in a huge reference collection, including wild and cultivated squash species collected throughout the Americas. Larger phytoliths like those found in domesticated varieties of Cucurbita ecuadorensis, the only cucurbit squash native to Ecuador, were clearly evident in undisturbed strata dated to 10,130 to 9320 carbon-14 years (roughly 12,000 to 10,000 calendar years ago).
The carbon remaining from plant cells that survives inside phytoliths was dated using new methods developed by the authors in collaboration with a radiocarbon laboratory.
Hunter gatherers in coastal Ecuador probably took advantage of resources from marine, mangrove and forest ecosystems, and began to domesticate wild squash varieties as they formed fairly stable settlements at the end of the Pleistocene, a plausible scenario for one of the most important economic and social passages of prehistory.
Piperno, D.R. and Stothert, K.E. Phytolith evidence for early domestication in southwest Ecuador. Science. Feb. 14, 2003.
Researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, with headquarters in Panama City, Panama, study the past, present and future of tropical biodiversity and its implications for humankind.
What they do is bury their garbage, especially the plant matter that is going bad. They have quite a garden, a good varety of plants they found in the jungle but that grow well from the garbage pit behind the cabin. Squash, potatoes, and peppers.
On the other hand, you probably do "know" these folks from a virtually identical "early agriculture development area" in the vicinity of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.
They also domesticated many varieties of squash (otherwise a tropical plant), as well as the Jerusalem artichoke, and presumably other stuff.
Although these two places, Kentucky and Equador, seem far apart, if you have the use of boats....... well, we know what happens there ~ "the world" is discovered~
Corn, too, even though corn is harsh on the soil.
It arrives a bit later than many other vegetables typical of the Americas, but that's because the primary grain may have resulted from a "cross" between dissimilar species. Corn's discovery had to await it's creation by nature!
I think the guys who did corn also did amaranth (used extensively by the Aztecs).
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