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Study finds maize in diets of people in coastal Peru dates to 5,000 years ago
Date:2/25/2013

nsisting one very large mound and several much smaller mounds on either side.

The scientists targeted several areas at the sites including residences, trash pits, ceremonial rooms, and campsites. A total of 212 radiocarbon dates were obtained in the course of all the excavations.

Macroscopic remains of maize (kernels, leaves, stalks, and cobs) were rare.

However, the team looked deeper and found an abundance of microscopic evidence of maize in various forms in the excavations. One of the clearest markers was the abundance of maize pollen in the prehistoric soil samples. While maize is grown in the area today, they were able to rule out modern day contamination because modern maize pollen grains are larger and turn dark red when stain is applied. Also, modern soil samples consistently contain pollen from the Australian Pine (Casuarinaceae Casuarina), a plant which is an invasive species from Australia never found in prehistoric samples.

A majority of the soil samples analyzed came from trash pits associated with residential architecture. Other samples were taken from places such as room floors and construction debris. Of the 126 soil samples (not counting stone tools and coprolites) analyzed, 61 contained Z. mays pollen. (In fact, Z. mays was the second most common pollen found in the total of all samples, behind only pollen from cattails which have wind-pollinated flowers.) This is consistent with the percentage of maize pollen found in pollen analyses from sites in other parts of the world where maize is a major crop and constitutes the primary source of calories in the diet.

Haas and his colleagues also analyzed residues on stone tools used for cutting, scraping, pounding, and grinding. The tools were examined for evidence of plant residues, particularly starch grains and phytoliths (plant silica bodies). Of the 14 stone tools analyzed, 11 had maize starch grains on the working surfaces and two had maize phytoliths.
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Contact: Nancy O'Shea
media@fieldmuseum.org
312-665-7103
Field Museum
Source:Eurekalert

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