Ancient Sunflower Fuels Debate About Agriculture in the Americas Researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Florida State University have confirmed evidence of domesticated sunflower in Mexico 4,000 years before what had been previously believed.
People sometimes ask What is the big deal about sunflower" says David Lentz, professor of biological sciences and executive director of the Center for Field Studies in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Cincinnati (UC). Lentz worked with Mary Pohl from Florida State University, Jos Luis Alvarado from Mexicos Institute of Anthropology and History, and Robert Bye from the Independent National University of Mexico.
First of all, sunflower is one of the world's major oil seed crops and understanding its ancestry is important for modern crop-breeding purposes," Lentz says. "For a long time, we thought that sunflower was domesticated only in eastern North America, in the middle Mississippi valley Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois. This is what traditional textbooks say. Now it appears that sunflower was domesticated independently in Mexico."
"The Mexican sunflower discovery suggests that there may have been some cultural exchange between eastern North America and Mesoamerica at a very early time, Lentz adds. Now the textbooks need to be rewritten.
More than just a matter of pride over which part of America can claim a flower, the debate centers on when sunflower was domesticated and which civilization first cultivated it. Now there is solid evidence that two similar events took place thousands of years and hundreds of miles apart.
Lentz and his fellow researchers have documented archaeological, linguistic, ethnographic and ethnohistoric data demonstrating that the sunflower had entered the repertoire of Mexican domesticates by 2600 B.C., that its cultivation was widespread in Mexico and extended as far south as El Salvador
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University of Cincinnati