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The impact of the diffusion of maize to the Southwestern United States
Date:12/8/2009

An international group of anthropologists offers a new theory about the diffusion of maize to the Southwestern United States and the impact it had.

Published the week of Dec. 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study, co-authored by Gayle Fritz, Ph.D., professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and colleagues*, suggests that maize was passed from group to group of Southwestern hunter-gatherers.

These people took advantage of improved moisture conditions by integrating a storable and potentially high-yielding crop into their broad-spectrum subsistence strategy.

"For decades, there have been two competing scenarios for the spread of maize and other crops into what is now the U.S. Southwest," Fritz said.

According to the first, groups of farmers migrated northward from central Mexico into northwest Mexico and from there into the Southwest, bringing their crops and associated lifeways with them.

In the second scenario, maize moved northward from central Mexico to be Southwest by being passed from one hunter-gatherer band to the next, who incorporated the crop into their subsistence economies and eventually became farmers themselves.

"The case for long-distance northward migration of Mexican farming societies received a boost about 12 years ago when British archaeologist Peter Bellwood, joined a few years later by geographer Jared Diamond and linguist Jane Hill, included the Southwest in a grand global model in which long-distance migration of agriculturalists explains the spread of many of the world's major language families," Fritz said. "In the Southwest case, Uto-Aztecan-speaking peoples, ancestors of people who speak modern languages, like Comanche and Hopi, would have been responsible for the diffusion."

In this paper, the researchers summarize the most recent archaeological evidence, and integrate what is currently known abo
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Contact: Gayle Fritz
gjfritz@artsci.wustl.edu
314-935-8588
Washington University in St. Louis
Source:Eurekalert

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