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These are preserved maize cobs from the El Gigante rockshelter, Honduras, directly dated by AMS 14C. The largest cob, pictured at middle, is roughly 10 cm (4 in) in length. The first four cobs from the left date to the Late Formative period (approximately 2,200 years BP), while the cob at the far right dates to the Late Archaic, nearly two millennia older (approximately 4,100 years BP). Research on specimens from El Gigante reveals that ancient farmers selected for numerous traits, developing and cultivating a wide array of maize

This is the El Gigante rockshelter in the western highlands of Honduras.

 

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Mid-summer corn on the cob is everywhere, but where did it all come from and how did it get to be the big, sweet, yellow ears we eat today? Some of the answers come from carbon dating ancient maize and other organic material from the El Gigante rock shelter in Honduras, according to a team of anthropologists who show that 4,300 years ago maize was sufficiently domesticated to serve as a staple crop in the Honduran highlands.

Source: Maize from El Gigante Rock Shelter shows early transition to staple crop

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Source: The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán

Archaeology.org

by Jason Urbanus

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At its peak in the 14th century, Casas Grandes was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

At its peak in the 14th century, Casas Grandes was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

The evidence of corn beer found at Casas Grandes dates to the same cultural period as this figurine, from 1200 to 1450 CE. (Photo by Vassil)

The evidence of corn beer found at Casas Grandes dates to the same cultural period as this figurine, from 1200 to 1450 CE. (Photo by Vassil)

 

Original Article:

western digs.org

POSTED BY BLAKE DE PASTINO ON MARCH 10, 2016

 

The last meals of men and women buried centuries ago in the ancient city of Casas Grandes were dominated by corn, new research has found — from ground maize, to corn smut, to what archaeologists say is the first conclusive evidence of corn beer in the Greater Southwest.

And these clues were found in a long-overlooked source: the fossilized plaque on the teeth of the dead.

Archaeologists say these and other findings are providing important insights into the diet and lifeways of one of the most influential prehistoric cities in the region.

“The results of this study offer some of the first hard evidence for the production of corn beer, consumption of corn smut, and food processing methods,” said Daniel King, a graduate student in anthropology at Brigham Young University, who led the research.

“It is a step forward in understanding Casas Grandes human-plant interactions, especially diet.”

Casas Grandes, also known as Paquime, was a large settlement on the fringes of the Mogollon culture to the north and Mesoamerica to the south.

At its peak in the 14th century, the city was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

Situated in Chihuahua some 130 kilometers, or 80 miles, from the New Mexico border, Casas Grandes was excavated in the 1950s and ‘60s, revealing hundreds of human remains — some buried, some dismembered and placed in urns, others apparently left out in the open.

Now, a new project undertaken by Dr. Anne Katzenberg of the University of Calgary is revisiting those remains, in an effort to learn more about the people who lived and worked in the prehistoric city.

And King and his colleagues sought to do their part, by analyzing the teeth of the dead.

Specifically, they studied the tooth calculus of more than a hundred sets of human remains.

“Calculus is fossilized tooth tartar,” King said.

“If teeth aren’t cleaned regularly, then the tartar, which can trap pretty much anything in it, such as algae, plants, fungus, or fibers, will slowly mineralize with everything stuck in it and turn into calculus, while the microremains turn into microfossils.”

To get at this microscopic evidence, the team recovered tartar from the remains of 110 people found within the ancient city and from other sites in the Casas Grandes River valley, all buried between 700 and 1450 CE.

Of those 110 samples, 63 yielded some sort of microscopic remains.

The most common traces the researchers found were starch granules, mostly bits of corn, which accounted for 36 percent of the samples.

Also common were phytoliths — tiny mineral fragments — that came from grasses and squash.

And more than 10 percent of the samples revealed the presence of corn smut — an edible, nutritious fungus that grows on corn and is still considered a delicacy, known today by its Aztec name, huitlacoche.

But while corn appears often in the dental record of Casas Grandes’ dead, that’s not necessarily a reflection of the population’s diet as a whole, King noted.

“Given the nature of calculus, any microremains recovered are going to be from the last days or weeks of the person’s life, maybe a month or two, but not longer,” he explained.

“So reconstructing diet, in the long term sense, doesn’t work with calculus.

“However,” he added, “identifying specific foodstuffs — like corn beer, fish, chile, et cetera — is useful, as many of them can’t be seen in the results of other studies.”

And in this regard, King said, the “most interesting results” of his team’s research was the discovery of corn alcohol.

Three of the samples revealed granules of maize that bore the unmistakable signs of fermentation, he said — including swelling and fragmentation caused by being heated at three distinct temperatures, and striations created by the fermenting process.

These bloated, broken grains seem to be the result of making chicha — a corn beer whose use has been recorded in Central and South America for as much as 5,000 years, King said.

In those cultures, brewing and consuming chicha is thought to have held ceremonial value, but it may have held other functions as well, he noted.

“We don’t have enough information to determine [chicha’s] use,” King said.

“Based on ethnographic accounts, we default to ‘ritual’, although I always think that’s a cop-out answer.

“We know modern groups used corn beer or similar drinks in religious ceremonies, so that’s all we can go off of.”

In addition, King noted, the burial contexts of the samples haven’t yet been analyzed, so archaeologists can’t yet draw conclusions about whether beer consumption was limited, for example, to a certain social class.

Moreover, he added, this is the first “substantial evidence” of corn beer in the Greater Southwest, so it’s possible that chicha may have served a different function in Casas Grandes than it did in Mesoamerica.

When it comes to beer in the southwestern archaeological record, he said, “almost nothing exists for northern Mexico or the American Southwest. The results we posted may be the first of their kind for this region.”

Some ceramic fragments found near Casas Grandes, for example, have displayed microscopic “pitting” that could have been caused by fermentation, he noted.

Granules of corn found in the tooth calculus of people buried at Casas Grandes show signs of swelling and fragmentation that are typical of fermentation, researchers say. (Photo courtesy King et al.)

Granules of corn found in the tooth calculus of people buried at Casas Grandes show signs of swelling and fragmentation that are typical of fermentation, researchers say. (Photo courtesy King et al.)

 

And a study in 2007 found traces consistent with fermentation in potsherds from Ancestral Puebloan settlements in New Mexico; but researchers cautioned that the fermentation may have been accidental, and the findings were described as “provocative but inconclusive.”

King’s new findings, then, raise the question of how the custom of brewing corn beer arrived at Casas Grandes, as well as when, and by whom.

“The best archaeological evidence we have for corn beer and other alcoholic drinks comes from Peru or Mesoamerica,” King said.

“So, if anything, the idea for corn fermentation came up from the south, but that is still conjecture at this point.”

As for when beer came to town, his findings do provide some insights.

His team studied teeth dating back as far as the year 700, but the fermented granules were only detected on remains dated to the so-called Medio Period of Casas Grandes — a cultural heyday that spanned from about 1200 CE to 1450 CE — suggesting that chicha might have been a relatively recent phenomenon.

“Our results show that maize was used throughout various time periods, but evidence for maize fermentation only comes from the Medio period,” he said.

“This is not to say such use did not exist in the [earlier] period, only that our results don’t currently support that idea.”

But whether it was brewed, chewed, or cooked, the corn of Casas Grandes may, in time, teach us volumes, not just about diet, but also about the social interactions that shaped one of the most important cultural crossroads in ancient North America.

“The continuity of maize use throughout the two time periods is important,” King said.

“It may suggest a continuity of people, thereby supporting an in situ development.

“Turning maize into beer during the Medio period, however, could suggest an influx of new ideas — or perhaps even people — during that time, which might indicate outside influence — either foreigners coming to Casas Grandes, or locals traveling and coming back with new ideas.”

 

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Among the 370 projectile points found at the site are examples of A) Midland, B) Milesand, C) Plainview, D) Lerma, E) Abasolo, F) Ventana, G) San Pedro, and H) Dátil. (Photo courtesy Gallaga et al.)

Among the 370 projectile points found at the site are examples of A) Midland, B) Milesand, C) Plainview, D) Lerma, E) Abasolo, F) Ventana, G) San Pedro, and H) Dátil. (Photo courtesy Gallaga et al.)

 

he cranium of a 12 to 15 year old girl was found just below the surface of the site. Radiocarbon analysis of three teeth dated the burial to 1360 BCE . (Photo courtesy Gallaga et al. May not be reproduced.)

he cranium of a 12 to 15 year old girl was found just below the surface of the site. Radiocarbon analysis of three teeth dated the burial to 1360 BCE . (Photo courtesy Gallaga et al. May not be reproduced.)

 

Original article:

Western digs

BY BLAKE DE PASTINO ON FEBRUARY 26, 2016

 

Archaeologists working in the borderlands of northern Mexico have uncovered a camp used by ancient hunters as much as 10,500 years ago, revealing insights into some of the earliest human history in the Greater Southwest.

On a ranch near the Santa Maria River in northern Chihuahua, researchers have unearthed more than 18,000 artifacts, including thousands of stone flakes, cores, and hammers, along with 370 projectile points, and a dozen stone ovens.

But the most surprising find has been the grave of a teenage girl, who was interred among the rocks, alone and unadorned, some 3,200 years ago.

Her remains, researchers say, may help unlock the history of the people who brought agriculture to this arid region, and who were the first known farmers of corn in the Chihuahuan Desert.

“The importance of this find is in knowing more of the early steps of humans on this land, to remind us that whatever the geographical characteristic of this region, humans were able to make a living here, to make this region their home,” said Dr. Emiliano Gallaga, who led the research.

Gallaga and his colleagues discovered the site while investigating a patch of desert about 70 kilometers [45 miles] south of the New Mexico border that was being developed for a solar energy plant.

“At this point the [energy] company had two options: leave the areas of the site untouched, or pay for a salvage project,” said Gallaga, a research fellow with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), which conducted the research.

“The company choose the latter. So in the summer of 2014, we performed a one-season project where we registered the site, mapped it, collected all archaeological material, and performed several excavation units.”

fter investigating nearly 7.5 acres, the researchers found no evidence of any structures and also no ceramics.

But they did uncover 12 stone ovens, along with an incredibly dense concentration of tools and stone fragments, suggesting that the site had been used as a kind of tool-making camp intermittently over thousands of years.

The camp consisted of several separate working areas, each scattered with a variety of stone chips, cores, and tools.

In all, 18,488 artifacts were recovered, including hundreds of stone points that were fashioned in recognizable styles that date back more than 10,000 years.

“We have evidence of Late Paleoindian occupation around 8,000 BCE, based on the material we found,” Gallaga said, “particularly projectile points such as 8 Plainview points [made from around 8150-8000 BCE], 15 Midland points [8700-8500 BCE], and 3 Milnesand points [8200-7200 BCE].”

In all, he said, the 370 points represent 30 different styles, spanning the Paleoindian and Archaic periods.

But the most striking find came when the team turned its attention to a heavily eroded slope.

“When we were doing the surface collection, we noticed an interesting feature on the surface: a circle of bones coming out,” Gallaga said.

“We thought it could be a turtle shell, but we decided to make an [excavation] unit there, just in case.

“And there it was.

“We just cleaned a little bit, and a human cranium appeared.”

About 20 centimeters [about 8 inches] below the surface, the researchers uncovered the remains of a girl between 12 and 15 years old.

The circumstances of her death are unclear, her bones showing no obvious signs of trauma nor immediate evidence of disease.

She was buried in a flexed position, with no grave goods or other offerings.

Radiocarbon analysis of three of her teeth revealed that the burial dated to around 1360 BCE — a significant date range for Gallaga and his colleagues.

That’s because, about a day’s walk from the Santa Maria ranch sits an even more impressive site from the same period.

A hilltop settlement known as Cerro Juanaqueña, it’s the most important site of its kind in northern Chihuahua, Gallaga said.

In the late 1990’s, archaeologists investigated Cerro Juanaqueña and found more than 400 basalt terraces built onto its hillsides, some of them likely used for farming, and about 100 stone circles thought to be the foundations of houses.

But, most importantly, archaeologists also found the remnants of corn dated to 1150 BCE — the earliest evidence of maize ever found in Chihuahua.

No human remains were found at Cerro Juanaqueña, but if the girl discovered at Gallaga’s campsite was a member of its culture, she could hold a wealth of data about the high desert’s first known corn farmers.

“It’s possible that this burial could have some relation with Cerro Juanaqueña … that was occupied at the same time of the burial,” Gallaga said.

“Currently we are performing DNA analysis on the bones … to see if we can have a better idea where this burial fits in the region.”

Still other studies will focus on the ratios of strontium isotopes found in the girl’s teeth, which can shed light on where she was born and raised, as well as her diet.

“[Other archaeologists] would like to see if the young girl ate corn, which could be a good indicator that this site is related to Chihuahua’s Archaic Cerro [Juanaqueña] tradition,” Gallaga said.

As research continues into the life and death of the girl buried in the remote desert grave, her resting place will remain largely as it is, Gallaga reported.

“Due to the relevance of the findings, we recommended to INAH Chihuahua that they could give the permission for building the solar plant in the area, with the exception of the [camp] site,” he said.

“So it has been protected.”

“This finding is only a little piece of the puzzle of the human evolution and adaptation,” he added, “and it is important to be preserved for future generation and to be studied properly by researchers.”

 

 

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(Collections of the R.S. Peabody Museum, Photo: Donald E. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution)Maize cobs (5,300 to 1,200 years old), Tehuacan, Mexico

(Collections of the R.S. Peabody Museum, Photo: Donald E. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution)Maize cobs (5,300 to 1,200 years old), Tehuacan, Mexico

 

Original Article:

archaeology.org

By ZACH ZORICH, April 2015

By about 6,000 years ago, people in Mexico had domesticated a tropical grass called teosinte, beginning a process that would radically alter the plant, turning it into maize, responsible for feeding people across the world today. A team of archaeologists and biochemists recently documented the genetic changes the plant underwent in the southwestern United States. Their results show that the earliest maize in the region was a drought-resistant variety that came from the highlands of Mexico about 4,000 years ago. Sometime between 2,000 and 750 years ago, that highland maize was either accidentally cross-pollinated or intentionally bred with a starchier coastal maize variety, which likely improved its nutritional value. According to Rute da Fonseca, a biochemist at the University of Copenhagen, understanding maize evolution can help us understand how the cultures that consumed maize changed along with it. Cultivated maize can be stored and eaten year-round and requires less work to farm than most other crops. “It frees you, it gives you more free time for other things,” says Fonseca. “Maize allowed for the development of more complex societies.”

 

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The Zultépec-Tecoaque dig in Tlaxcala.

The Zultépec-Tecoaque dig in Tlaxcala.

 

Original Article:

mexiconewsdaily.com

Mexico News Daily | Thursday, November 19, 2015

We learn something every day; I didn’t know that,  Pulque is [an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant].

 

The Zultépec-Tecoaque archaeological site in Tlaxcala, an active dig for almost 25 years, keeps surprising archaeologists with its formerly hidden secrets and treasures, offering a unique glimpse into the life and times of the people of the region — the Acolhua — immediately before the Spanish conquest.

Just last Wednesday, a surprising and special discovery was made: the skeleton of a high-ranking Acolhua citizen buried in a cistern, along with countless significant objects.

Archaeologists also found a full-size throne built of tezontle, a volcanic rock used widely in construction and ornamentation in pre-hispanic and colonial Mexico, and a “spectacular” cylindrical carved stone that displays the glyph, or pictograph, of the Aztec god Ometochtli, or “Two Rabbit.”

The finding is puzzling for specialists due to its location 100 meters away from the ceremonial center in a residential area of the small town, which was inhabited between 1200 and 1521 BC. Traditionally, prominent citizens have been found buried in what were considered at the time to be sacred places.

“The Acolhua used these kinds of cisterns, 130 centimeters in diameter, for rainwater storage as other sources of water were scarce,” said archaeologist Enrique Martínez Vargas, director of the Zultepec-Tecoaque project. “To date we’ve dug 13 cisterns, but this is the first time we have found such an important figure buried in one of them. This particular character was identified with the Ometochtli glyph, associated with the pulque and drunkenness deity, represented by a rabbit.

“It should be noted that this zone was renowned for its high production of pulque [an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant]. Ometochtli is one of the 400 rabbit-gods, but in the area we had only found Mayahuel, the deity of maguey.”

Now, he said, “We have managed to locate evidence of a pulque god.”

The person buried in the cistern was a 25-year-old, 1.6-meter-tall male, and studies will enable specialists to learn more about him, particularly the cause of death.

It “is the most important public figure unearthed in the zone,” said Martínez, adding that “this discovery modifies our conception of these kinds of burials in pre-hispanic Mexico.”

Other objects, such as pulque carafes, have been found inside what specialists have begun calling the “funerary cistern,” but none as disconcerting as the vertebrae and ribs “of at least three different infants, one of them with clear signs of being cooked or boiled, and possibly consumed,” said archaeologist Bertha Flores.

Flores said they can’t be 100% certain that the infant “was a victim of cannibalism in this particular town, as the remains could have been brought from some other place. We’ll be able to determine this after analyzing the bones.”

Since the first excavations in 1992, the Zultépec-Tecoaque zone has offered priceless remains, such as the recently discovered evidence of 550 Spanish conquistadors and their African and American slaves, imprisoned and sacrificed in that town.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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A new study of prehistoric Southwestern ceramics, similar to this Ancestral Pubeloan mug from the Mesa Verde region, reveal widespread use of cacao and stomach-churning ‘black drink’. (Mesa Verde Black-on-white Mug ©2014 Crow Canyon Archaeological Center; BLM-Anasazi Heritage Center

A new study of prehistoric Southwestern ceramics, similar to this Ancestral Pubeloan mug from the Mesa Verde region, reveal widespread use of cacao and stomach-churning ‘black drink’. (Mesa Verde Black-on-white Mug ©2014 Crow Canyon Archaeological Center; BLM-Anasazi Heritage Center

Original article:

POSTED BY BLAKE DE PASTINO ON SEPTEMBER 8, 2015

western digs

Stimulating drinks made from exotic plants, like the cocoa tree and a type of southern holly, were consumed much more widely across the prehistoric Southwest than was thought, according to new research.

A recent study — the largest of its kind ever conducted — analyzed nearly 200 samples of pottery from Southwestern archaeological sites, ranging from Colorado to Chihuahua and spanning 650 years of human occupation.

This is the first evidence that the Ancestral Puebloans and other Southwestern cultures consumed the highly caffeinated Ilex drinks.

Until now, the use of ‘black drink’ had mainly been associated with distant cultures in the American Midwest and South, such as the Mississippian metropolis of Cahokia, where it was drunk as part of purging rituals, or for stimulating trance-like states.

Moreover, making both cocoa and ‘black drink’ required plants that grew in far-off climates, researchers say, indicating that the Southwest was part of an ancient ‘caffeine trade network’ that extended from the foothills of the Rockies to the heart of Mexico.

“There are no known plants in the Southwest or Northwestern Mexico that have caffeine,” said Dr. Patricia Crown, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico who led the study.

The results revealed that more than 20 percent of the ceramics contained traces of either cocoa or a potent concoction known as ‘black drink,’ made from yaupon holly, known to scientists as Ilex vomitoria.
“So these caffeinated drinks required acquiring — through exchange or direct acquisition — materials from a distance: Mesoamerica, for either plant, or perhaps the Gulf Coast for the holly.”

Crown was one of the researchers who, in 2009, first discovered traces of cocoa — or cacao — in pottery excavated from New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon.

It was a striking reminder of the great economic reach of the Ancestral Puebloans, whose sites had already turned up other Mesoamerican items, like copper bells and remains of scarlet macaws.

Following that find, Crown and colleague W. Jeffrey Hurst, senior scientist with the Hershey Company, wanted to learn how widespread the use of cocoa was throughout the pre-contact Southwest.

“We were interested in determining the spatial and temporal extent of cacao use in the Southwest and Mexican Northwest,” she said.

“We began by looking at other contemporaneous sites in Chaco, then sites outside Chaco but related to it, then sites with evidence for exchange in Mesoamerican goods in other areas, and then sites that filled in geographic areas or time periods but didn’t necessarily have other evidence for Mesoamerican exchange.”

In all, the new study analyzed 177 pottery sherds from 18 different sites, ranging in age from the year 750 to 1400. They included monuments like Chaco’s Chetro Ketl, the ancient Hohokam settlement in Arizona known as Snaketown, and more recently studied sites like Windy Knob in southwestern Colorado.

Using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, the researchers then analyzed the sherds for traces of chemicals known as methylxanthines — stimulants that include caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, which are found in cacao and Ilex vomitoria, though in different proportions.

The results, Crown said, were surprising.

“When we started getting results … we realized that not all of them were clearly cacao,” she said.

“Many [of the results] had high caffeine [levels], which is not characteristic of cacao, and some had none of the other methylxanthines — theobromine and theophylline — that characterize cacao.

“So we had to determine what else those samples could be if they weren’t cacao.”

After comparing those residues with ones found in pottery fragments from around Cahokia, where Ilex-based beverages were known to have been used, Crown and Hurst determined that the unusual chemical signatures were likely those of ‘black drink.’

“We fully expected to see evidence for cacao — or not — in the samples,” Crown added.

“We were surprised to find results that suggested that some samples had caffeinated drinks that were not cacao.”

In addition to showing that holly-based drinks were likely used in the pre-Hispanic Southwest, this new analysis reveals just how widespread the consumption of caffeine was in the region.

Of the 177 pottery samples — 40 of them, or 22 percent — turned up traces of either cacao or Ilex, even in the sherds from communities that were not known to have Mesoamerican artifacts, or other signs of influence from far-flung cultures.

This, Crown noted, indicates that the Ancestral Puebloans, the Hohokam, and other Southwestern groups not only traded with the peoples of Mesoamerica and the Gulf Coast, they had prolonged and sustained contact with them.

“Once made into drinks, these plants were consumed,” she said. “So, unlike some other exchanged items, if they were an important part of life in the Southwest, or Northwestern Mexico, there had to be an ongoing supply, even if they were consumed only sporadically.

“This created social and economic relationships with distant populations,” she added.

“Individuals who served these drinks might have created more local relationships and obligations with the people who drank them in feasts or rituals or political contexts.

“So part of the takeaway is that special drinks of these sorts tell us something about relationships with distant areas, and also within local groups.”

Crown and Hurst report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

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