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

For decades, archaeologists have struggled with understanding the emergence of a distinct South American civilization during the Late Archaic period (3000-1800 B.C.) in Peru. One of the persistent questions has been the role of agriculture and particularly corn (maize) in the evolution of complex, centralized societies. Up until now, the prevailing theory was that marine resources, not agriculture and corn, provided the economic engine behind the development of civilization in the Andean region of Peru.

Now, breakthrough research led by Field Museum curator Dr. Jonathan Haas is providing new resolution to the issue by looking at microscopic evidence found in soil, on stone tools, and in coprolites from ancient sites and dated with over 200 Carbon-14 dates.

After years of study, Haas and his colleagues have concluded that during the Late Archaic, maize (Zea mays, or corn) was indeed a primary component in the diet of people living in the Norte Chico region of Peru, an area of remarkable cultural florescence in 3rd millennium B.C. Their research is the subject of a paper that appears in the online Early Edition issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the week of February 25, 2013..

"This new body of evidence demonstrates quite clearly that the very earliest emergence of civilization in South America was indeed based on agriculture as in the other great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and China," said Haas.

Haas and his team focused on sites in the desert valleys of Pativilca and Fortaleza north of Lima where broad botanical evidence pointed to the extensive production, processing and consumption of maize between 3000 and 1800 B.C. They studied a total of 13 sites. The two most extensively studied sites were Caballete, about six miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and consisting of six large platform mounds arranged in a "U" shape, and the site of Huaricanga, about 14 miles inland and co
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Contact: Nancy O'Shea
media@fieldmuseum.org
312-665-7103
Field Museum
Source:Eurekalert

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