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More on the Four Corners Potato!

IMG_2912Original article

Salt Lake Tribune

By BRIAN MAFFLY

Delane Griffin’s yard around his Escalante home is filled with a wild potato that his late wife, Leah, transplanted from nearby sites. For decades, some residents in this southern Utah town have enjoyed these tiny potatoes, which have a nutty flavor when prepared properly.

Now, new archaeological research from the University of Utah shows that prehistoric inhabitants of the Escalante Valley could have been nourishing themselves with this tuber for thousands of years, long before potatoes were known to have been domesticated into one of world’s most widespread and vital crops.

“Our study has found the earliest evidence of potato use in North America,” said Lisbeth Louderback, the Natural History Museum of Utah’s archaeology curator. “It’s about the rediscovery of wild potatoes native to North America and [the plant] being a very important food resource for the past 10,000 years up until today.”

She added: “The potato has become a forgotten part of Escalante’s history. Our work is to help rediscover this heritage.”

Her findings, based on analyses of plant residues recovered from grinding tools, were posted Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To develop her hypothesis, Louderback teamed with botanist Bruce Pavlik, conservation director of the U.’s Red Butte Garden, to develop ways to identify potato starch granules and find spots in the Escalante Valley where the Four Corners potato, or Solanum jamesii, grow. Her findings, based on analyses of plant residues recovered from grinding tools, were posted Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The potatoes the world is now familiar with have all descended from tubers native to South America and bred into thousands of varieties.

S. jamesii, by contrast, is a species native to North America and limited mostly to parts of Arizona and New Mexico. On the Colorado Plateau, it is found in small, isolated populations, according to Pavlik. The tuber is highly nutritious, packing twice the protein, zinc and manganese, and three times the calcium and iron, as the standard Solanum tuberosum.

The Four Corners potato may be relatively tiny, but one plant can yield up to 125 tubers, ranging in size up to a silver dollar.

During the course of the U. research, the scientists discovered these populations are closely associated with archaeological sites. This suggests ancient people brought the potato here and planted them. Genetic analysis backs up this hypothesis, although more evidence must be analyzed, said Pavlik.

Asking today’s locals where they could find these plants, U. scientists discovered the trove in Griffin’s garden. He is a 94-year-old descendant of Mormon pioneers who settled the valley in 1876. By then, the area already was known as Potato Valley, according to the journals of U.S. Cavalry men who passed through a decade earlier and ate the wild potatoes.

“We have found wild potatoes growing from which the valley takes its name,” wrote Capt. James Andrus in 1866.

Griffin’s wife was a history buff who was curious why Escalante residents didn’t know why the area had been called Potato Valley. Leah Griffin figured the wild potatoes had something to do with it and started growing them.

“It was a rare thing. It wasn’t found every place and that was one of the things that made it important to her,” Griffin says in a video the U. produced to publicize the research.

The Griffins’ garden was a perfect launching point for Louderback, an assistant professor of anthropology who explores diets of ancient people. Her research interest drew her to the smooth stones ancient people used for grinding plant fibers into something edible.

“Grinding plant tissues with manos and metates releases granules that get lodged in the tiny cracks of stone, preserving them for thousands of years. Archaeologists can retrieve them using chemicals, modern microscopy and advanced imaging techniques,” she said. “It’s a whole other data set that’s been untapped all these years because starch grain analysis hasn’t been widely used until maybe 10 years ago.”

For her doctoral work at the University of Washington, Louderback developed a technique for identifying potato starch grains, which are rare among food plants for having an off-center hila — the point on the granule where the starch layers are deposited. She came up with five criteria for identifying ancient potato starch, then put the methodology to work on the residues found on tools recovered from the oldest archaeological site on the Colorado Plateau.

North Creek Shelter is now on property west of Escalante owned by Joette-Marie Rex, who operates the Slot Canyons Inn and North Creek Grill. A decade ago, a team led by Brigham Young University’s Joel Janetski excavated the site to find stratigraphic layers indicating continuous habitation dating back 11,000 years. These layers yielded numerous manos and metates that are now housed at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures.

Louderback recovered 323 intact granules from 24 tools in this collection. Nine met all five criteria for the potato and 61 met four, offering proof that the potato was part of the ancients’ diet. The oldest tool yielding potato starch dates from 10,900 to 10,100 years ago.

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Original Article:

Independent
By Ian Johnston, July3,2017

potato’ dating back about 10,900 years have been discovered in Utah.
The “well-preserved starch granules” – discovered in cracks in rocks used to grind up the potatoes – are the oldest evidence of cultivation of the plant in North America, researchers said.
This technique has been used to find the earliest known use of several species, including oats found in southern Italy dating to 32,600 years ago, 23,000-year-old barley and wheat discovered in Israel, and beans and yams from China dated to between 19,500 and 23,000 years ago.
The potato starch was embedded into stone tools found in Escalante, Utah, an area once known to early European settlers as “Potato Valley”.
The ‘Four Corners’ potatoes, Solanum jamesii, were eaten by several Native American tribes, including the Apache, Navajo and Hopi.
However most potatoes eaten around the world today are all descended from one species, Solanum tuberosum, which was domesticated in the South American Andes more than 7,000 years ago. It has been bred into thousands of different types since then.
The Four Corners potato, which may be the first example of a domesticated plant in the American West, could be used to make the current potato crop more resilient to drought and disease, it is believed.
Professor Lisbeth Louderback, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah and a senior author of a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said: “This potato could be just as important as those we eat today, not only in terms of a food plant from the past, but as a potential food source for the future.
“The potato has become a forgotten part of Escalante’s history. Our work is to help rediscover this heritage.”
S. jamesii is also highly nutritious with twice the amount of protein, zinc and manganese and three times the calcium and iron content as S. tuberosum.
Grown in ideal conditions in a greenhouse, a single “mother” tuber can produce 125 progeny tubers in six months.
Early European visitors to the Escalante area remarked on the potatoes.
Captain James Andrus wrote in August 1866: “We have found wild potatoes growing from which the valley takes its name.”
And a soldier, John Adams, wrote in the same year: “We gathered some wild potatoes which we cooked and ate … they were somewhat like the cultivated potato, but smaller.”

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Original article:

News.psu.edu

A’ndrea Elyse Messer
April 10, 2017

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Reconstructed food webs from the Ancestral Puebloan southwestern United States show the complexity and interconnectedness of humans, other animals, crops and the environment, in an area of uncertain climate and resources, according to researchers, who think climate change and human decisions then, may shed light on future human choices.

“As southwestern archaeologists, we know that Ancestral Puebloan people were intrinsically connected to the environment,” said Stefani Crabtree, postdoctoral fellow in human behavioral ecology in the Department of Anthropology, Penn State. “But, most food webs have omitted humans.”

Traditionally, food webs, while they map the interaction of all the animals and plants in an area, usually do not emphasize the human component. Crabtree and colleagues created a digital food web that captures all categories of consumers and consumed, can be defined for specific time periods and can also represent food webs after major food sources or predators disappear from the area. If an area suddenly becomes devoid of deer or humans or corn, for example, a food web of that situation can show where predators went to find prey, or which prey thrived for lack of a predator.

These knockout food webs — webs missing a specific predator or prey — show the changes and pressures on the food sources substituted for the missing ones, or the changes that occur when pressure is removed by removing a major consumer. The researchers report the results of their study today (Apr. 10) in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“When people show up in the area around A.D. 600 they bring corn,” said Crabtree. “It takes a while for critters to get used to it, but eventually, everything that eats vegetation, eats corn and prefers it.”

Humans bringing corn into an area is a major disruption of the existing food web. Planting corn means clearing fields to displace whatever plants and animals were there, creating a high-energy plant source of food and switching plant eaters to the preferred higher-calorie food source.

In the American Southwest, the Ancestral Puebloan people eventually preyed on their deer population enough so that they deer were no longer a reliable source of food. To compensate for this, they began to domesticate turkeys for food. Turkeys need to be fed corn if they are captive and that competes with corn for human consumption. At this time, corn made up 70 to 80 percent of Ancestral Puebloans’ food and so feeding turkeys altered the food web.

To create the food web, the team identified all the common, noninvasive species in the area. They then added species that were found in archaeological sites, but were absent from the modern lists. In some food webs, components are identified by their function, so all humming birds are considered flying pollinators, but in this case each type of humming bird received its own place in the web, linked to what it ate and what, if anything, ate it. This produced a very complicated web, but supplied exceptional redundancy.

 

“In the insect world it is harder to get at the data,” said Crabtree. “We have not been able to get at good databases so we aggregate at the functional level— pollinators or bloodsuckers for example.”

The exception to individual web entries then are invertebrates — insects, spiders, snails, etc. — that were classified by their function. Invertebrates are organized to the level of order and then grouped by function. With insects, for example, the researchers would group butterflies and moths that pollinated and sipped nectar, together in one group.

The overall food web had 334 nodes representing species or order-level functional groups with 11,344 links between predator and prey.

The researchers realize that there are differences in the environment between now and the Ancestral Puebloan period, but many things, such as pinon-juniper woodlands and sage flats are the same. Enough similarity exists for this approach to work.

The team did not produce just one overall food web, but also food webs corresponding to three archaeological locations and three time periods of Ancestral Pueblo occupation in the area — Grass Mesa Pueblo for Pueblo I, Albert Porter Pueblo for Pueblo II and Sand Canyon Pueblo for Pueblo III. They began with using archaeological assemblages from these sites incorporating all human prey and all human predators into the food web. Then they included the prey of the primary prey of humans and then predators of these human-prey species. Prey, in this case, includes animals, insects and plants.

When creating knockout food webs, the researchers included only those species that were found in reasonable quantities in the archaeological assemblages at those times.

“Knockout food webs are one of the best ways to understand how people interact with the environment,” said Crabtree. “Because we can remove something, predator or prey, and see what would happen.”

When major changes in climate variables such as drought, heat and lack of snowpack are factored in, the balance in the food web may become unstable. When food becomes scarce, most mobile creatures, animals and insects move to another location. During the time of the Ancestral Puebloans, this was possible and eventually, these people moved to the area of the Rio Grande in New Mexico and other places in New Mexico and Arizona.

“We didn’t have a long-term plan during the 600 years of Ancestral Pueblo habitation in the Mesa Verde region,” said Crabtree. “We don’t have a long-term plan today either. We don’t even have a four-year plan. Some people are pushing us to look closely at climate change.”

In the past, people migrated, said Crabtree. Unless we figure out better strategies, where are we going to migrate out to? We do not have a place to go, she said.

What people plant and eat has a great effect on the environment and on ecosystems. In the end, those choices will impact human survival, according to the researchers.

This work is part of a collaboration of researchers creating resolved food webs from a variety of places. Crabtree believes that she can compare this project to others that include humans in other geographical areas to help understand ecosystems with humans in them.

Also working on this project were Lydia J.S. Vaughn, graduate student, energy and resources group, University of California, Berkeley; and Nathan T. Crabtree, U.S. Forest Services.

The National Science Foundation and the Chateaubriand Fellowship funded this research.

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Original article:

Smithsonian.com

By Brigit Katz

4/5/17

The discovery of the 14,000-year-old village in Canada lends credence to the theory that humans arrived in North America from the coast.

Northwest Native American Fire Pit

The oral history of the Heiltsuk Nation, an Aboriginal group based on the Central Coast of British Columbia, tells of a coastal strip of land that did not freeze during the ice age, making it a place of refuge for early inhabitants of the territory. As Roshini Nair reports for the CBC, a recent archaeological discovery attests to an ancient human presence in the area associated with the tradition. While digging on British Columbia’s Triquet Island, archaeologists unearthed a settlement that dates to the period of the last ice age.
The archaeological team, supported by the Hakai Institute, sifted through meters of soil and peat before hitting upon the charred remains of an ancient hearth. Researchers painstakingly peeled away charcoal flakes, which were then carbon dated. In November, tests revealed that the hearth was some 14,000 years old, indicating that the area in which it was found is one of the oldest human settlements ever discovered in North America. Or as Randy Shore of the Vancouver Sun contextualizes, the village is “three times as old as the Great Pyramid at Giza.”
Alisha Gauvreau, a PhD student at the University of Victoria and a researcher with the Hakai Institute, presented the team’s findings at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archeology this week. She tells Shore that archaeologists also found a number of artifacts in the area: fish hooks, a hand drill for igniting fires, a wooden device for launching projectiles and a cache of stone tools near the hearth.
“It appears we had people sitting in one area making stone tools beside evidence of a fire pit,” Gauvreau says. “The material that we have recovered … has really helped us weave a narrative for the occupation of this site.”
These findings may have significant implications for our understanding of ancient human migration patterns. As Jason Daley reports for Smithsonian.com, the traditional story of human arrival to the Americas posits that some 13,000 years ago, stone-age people moved across a land bridge that connected modern-day Siberia to Alaska. But recent studies suggest that route did not contain enough resources for the earliest migrants to successfully make the crossing. Instead, some researchers say, humans entered North America along the coast.
In a radio interview with the CBC, Gauvreau says that the ancient settlement on Triquet Island “really adds additional evidence” to this theory. “[A]rchaeologists had long thought that … the coast would been completely uninhabitable and impassible when that is very clearly not the case,” she explains.
The discovery is also important to the Heiltsuk Nation, lending credence to oral traditions that place their ancestors in the region during the days of the ice age. “[I]t reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years,” William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation, tells Nair. He added that the validation by “Western science and archeology” can help the Heiltsuk people as they negotiate with the Canadian government over title rights to their traditional territory.

 

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bluefish cave bone

bluefish cave bone

 

Original Article:

westerndigs.org

by Blake de Pastino

A close look at bones found in a Yukon cave seems to confirm a controversial finding made decades ago, archaeologists say: that humans arrived in North America 10,000 years earlier than many experts believe.

The bones are the remains of horse, bison, mammoths, and other Ice Age fauna, originally excavated from the Bluefish Caves near the border of Alaska and the Yukon Territory in the 1970s and 1980s.

Back then, radiocarbon dating placed the bones at about 25, 000 years old — not in itself surprising, except that many of the bones appeared to have been butchered by humans.

And the earliest evidence of human activity on the continent — at least at the time — dated back a mere 14,000 years.

Anthropologist Lauriane Bourgeon at the University of Montreal has devoted her doctoral thesis to revisiting the controversy surrounding the Bluefish Caves bones.

And she has concluded that more than a dozen of the animal bones do indeed bear “indisputable evidence of butchery activity,” showing that humans were on the continent well before the end of the last Ice Age.

The implications of these findings are weighty, not only for the timing of the peopling of the Americas, but for the way in which people actually moved from Asia into what’s known as Eastern Beringia — the swath of North America immediately east of the Bering Strait.

Bluefish Caves are located near the Ogilvie Mountains in Yukon Territory. (Photo courtesy Lauriane Bourgeon)

Bluefish Caves are located near the Ogilvie Mountains in Yukon Territory. (Photo courtesy Lauriane Bourgeon)

“In addition to proving that Bluefish Caves is the oldest known archaeological site in North America,” Bourgeon and her colleagues write in the journal PLOS One, “the results offer archaeological support for the ‘Beringian standstill hypothesis,’ which proposes that a genetically isolated human population persisted in Beringia during the Last Glacial Maximum (ed: the Ice Age) and dispersed from there to North and South America.”

The caves were first excavated by Canadian archaeologist Jacques Cinq-Mars starting in 1977, who posited, based on radiocarbon dating at the time, that the scored and damaged animal bones were evidence of human activity in the Americas as much as 25,000 years ago.

Largely dismissed and later overlooked, the theory was recently taken up by Bourgeon.

In 2015, she published some of her preliminary findings, after having studied 5,600 bone fragments from Cave 2 of the Bluefish Caves.

Most of the scoring and hatching marks on the bones were made by scavenging animals and not humans, she said.

But at least two of the bones did betray the tell-tale signs of human butchery, she said, including the pelvis bone of a caribou that bore deep, parallel lines etched in them.

“That is typically the mark of a stone tool used to de-flesh or disarticulate a carcass,” she told Western Digs at the time.

But the oldest of the samples that she tested was no more than 14,000 years old.

(See full coverage of her 2015 study: “Butchered Bones Found in Yukon Cave Bear Marks of Early Americans, Study Finds“)

Today, she and her team have obtained even more impressive results.

Bourgeon’s full study covered 36,000 bones from Caves 1 and 2, studying them under a high-power microscope and comparing them to other bones that had been scarred by animals, broken by freeze-thaw cycles, or damaged by rockfall or other natural sources of abrasion.

She and her team concluded that 15 bone samples bore striations that they say are “confidently attributable to human activities.”

Unlike carnivore teeth, which leave wide, shallow, U-shaped depressions, these samples bore the signature of a hand-held tool, they assert.

“Series of straight, V-shaped lines on the surface of the bones were made by stone tools used to skin animals,” said Montreal’s Dr. Ariane Burke, adviser to Bourgeon and a co-author of the new study, in a press statement.

“These are indisputable cut-marks created by humans.”

The team also conducted its own series of radiocarbon tests on six of the bones with the butchery marks.

The youngest specimen was 12,000 years old and the oldest — the lower jaw of an extinct horse, said to have marks showing where its tongue was cut out — was 24,000 years old.

Taken together, these two data points suggest that Ice Age Alaska and Yukon were not only inhabited, the team asserts, but that it was inhabited by a genetically isolated population, because 24,000 years ago, the rest of the continent was covered in glaciers and impassable.

This idea — known as the Beringia standstill hypothesis — has been proposed by some geneticists, who have found molecular clues in the DNA of indigenous groups both east and west of the Bering Strait which suggest that the Americas’ earliest settlers lingered in Eastern Beringia for thousands of years before being able to migrate south.

“Our discovery confirms the ‘Beringian standstill hypothesis,’” said Burke in the statement.

“Genetic isolation would have corresponded to geographical isolation.

“During the Last Glacial Maximum, Beringia was isolated from the rest of North America by glaciers and steppes too inhospitable for human occupation to the West.

“It was potentially a place of refuge.”

A growing body of evidence has been discovered since the ‘70s that shows a substantial human presence in the Americas before 14,000 years ago.

But there’s limited archaeological evidence to suggest that the continent was populated a full 25,000 years ago.

To that, Bourgeon and her team say, future research must focus on both archaeological and genetic evidence, specifically in the region around the Bering Strait, in order to get to the bottom of how and when the continent was populated.

“More research effort is required in Beringia clearly, to substantiate the existence of a standstill population and fully understand the prehistory of the first people of the Americas,” they write.

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Royal Alberta Museum archaeologists dug up a 1,600-year-old roasting pit at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta. This photo shows the preservation of the pit and plaster jacketing being started. Courtesy: Royal Alberta Museum

Royal Alberta Museum archaeologists dug up a 1,600-year-old roasting pit at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta. This photo shows the preservation of the pit and plaster jacketing being started.
Courtesy: Royal Alberta Museum

Original article:

By Brenton Driedger

Global news.ca

Royal Alberta Museum archaeologists are about to start a lengthy and intricate process of figuring out what ancient Albertans cooked for supper.

Last year, they dug up a 1,600-year-old roasting pit at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta. The oven was intact and still had a prepared meal inside, which could make it the only known artifact of its kind.

“Somebody — probably celebrating the success of a hunt — had a big feast afterward and prepared a bison calf and some kind of a dog, maybe part-wolf, in a pit side by side,” Bob Dawe, the Royal Alberta Museum’s lead archaeologist on the project, said.

“They roasted it overnight in the ground. It would have been a delectable feast in the morning.”

The roasting pit was first discovered in 1990, but archaeologists didn’t excavate it until last year, before packing it up and moving it to Edmonton.

That process involved laying fiberglass-reinforced plaster strips all over it until they hardened. Dawe said when the plaster hardened, they could pick up the pit with a crane and put it on a truck bound for Edmonton. That was a lot of work, but there’s still a lot left to do.

“It looks like a 3,000-pound plaster lozenge, not quite two metres in diametre and about half a metre thick,” Dawe laughed.

“We retrieved this assembly of rocks and sediment and bones intact with some great difficulty.”

Dawe expects it to take months to cut off the top, scrape away the dirt, and carefully clean and preserve every bone. They want it ready to display when the new museum opens in downtown Edmonton later this year.

One of the barriers to the work will be psychological, since one set of remains belongs to a dog.

“A lot of dog-lovers are a little concerned that a dog was part of the meal, and as a dog lover myself I find that a little bit bothersome, but people have been using dogs as food in the Americas for 10,000 years and they still use dogs as food all over the world,” said Dawe.

“I have a dog, and I’m sure my dog would be unhappy to hear that I’m digging up one of his ancestors.”

 

 

 

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This is another Article on crops and the Chaco Culture published in January with expanded information.

JLP

chaco-supernova-pictograph-730x438

Original Article:

by Blake de Pastino

western digs.org

For more than a century, researchers have been studying the intricacies of Chaco Canyon — the cluster of settlements and multi-story “great houses” in northwestern New Mexico that, at its peak around the year 1100, may have been home to hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Recently, researchers have been at odds over a simple, central question in the history of this monumental community:

How did the people of Chaco manage to grow food in such an arid environment?

According to new research, the answer is even simpler.

They didn’t.

Dr. Larry V. Benson, a former hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an anthropologist at the University of Colorado, has studied soil and other environmental records from the region, and concludes that Chaco Canyon was both too dry and too salty to grow corn or beans, two of the staple crops of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived there.

As a result, Benson proposes a new theory about how Chacoans fed themselves: They imported their food.

“The important thing about this study is that it demonstrates you can’t grow great quantities of corn in the Chaco valley floor,” Benson said of his new findings, in a press statement.

“And you couldn’t grow sufficient corn in the side canyon tributaries of Chaco that would have been necessary to feed several thousand people.

“Either there were very few people living in Chaco Canyon, or corn was imported there.”

Benson is the scientist behind many sometimes contentious anthropological findings around the West.

In 2013, he played a role in the discovery of petroglyphs in Nevada that were determined to be the oldest on the continent.

More recently, he concluded that the circular masonry feature at Mesa Verde National Park known as Mummy Lake wasn’t a reservoir, as many had thought, but a ceremonial structure.

Benson’s new research is a riposte to a study released in September that promised to “shake up” the field of Southwestern archaeology with its findings that Chaco Canyon’s soil was not too salty to farm, as Benson and others had previously asserted.

In fact, this research concluded, Chaco’s soil was rich in certain mineral salts, like calcium sulfate, that actually made it especially fertile for growing plants such as corn.

“One thing we can say with a great degree of certainty: The Ancestral Puebloans did not abandon Chaco Canyon because of salt pollution,” said Dr. Kenneth Tankersley, an anthropologist and geologist at the University of Cincinnati, in a press statement at the time.

But in his new paper, currently being published by the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Benson answers Tankersley’s study with new data and arguments of his own.

First, he draws on tree ring data.

Cross-sections of trees are considered natural records of annual rainfall, with thick and thin rings corresponding to wet and dry years.

Using data from tree-core samples spanning 1,100 years, Benson notes that Chaco only experienced sufficient rainfall for growing corn about 2 percent of the time.

Regardless of the soil’s salt content, Benson writes, “this implies that an exceptional wet period did not prevail during Chaco’s heyday.”

As for the benefits of sulfur on maize crops, Benson argues that, while sulfur is an important nutrient in agriculture, it’s mainly useful in treating metallic sulfates in acidic soil, a condition that Chaco Canyon doesn’t have.

“The principal usefulness of sulfur in maize agriculture is its ability to reduce aluminum toxicity that often accompanies soil acidity, a problem that does not occur in the high-pH soils of the Chaco Canyon region,” Benson writes.

Moreover, in his own analysis of soil samples taken from the valley bottom and the side canyons that feed into it, Benson finds that levels of salt were indeed very high — at some points, higher than those found in seawater.

Considering that Chaco’s soil chemistry likely hasn’t changed much over the past 800 years, Benson concludes that Chaco Canyon was simply never suitable for farming on a scale large enough to have fed its population.

“I don’t think anyone understands why it existed,” he said of the cultural complex, in the press statement.

“There was no time in the past when Chaco Canyon was a Garden of Eden.”

In turn, Benson offers an alternative explanation for how the communities of Chaco got their food: It was imported from the Chuska Mountains, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.

The eastern slope of the Chuskas is known to have been home to a robust Ancestral Puebloan presence, he said, their numbers aided in part by the ample water provided by snowmelt.

Previous studies have estimated that as many as 17,000 people made their home on the Chuska Slope before the year 1100, and recent research has even found that those mountains were the source of the Chaco Canyon’s huge building timbers.

Given the other cultural connections between the two communities, Benson said, it’s plausible that the Chuskas served as what he called “Chaco’s breadbasket.”

“There were timbers, pottery and chert coming from the Chuska region to Chaco Canyon, so why not surplus corn?” Benson said in the statement. [Read more about trade of exotic goods in Chaco: “Bones of Exotic Macaws Reveal Early Rise of Trade, Hierarchy in Chaco Canyon”]

The nature of Chaco’s agricultural environment, and how Ancestral Puebloans managed to thrive within it, remain open questions for now.

But Benson suggests that, in addition to Chaco’s natural chemistry, the relationship between these two communities in pre-contact New Mexico also deserves closer study.

“Perhaps it is time to reassess Chaco Canyon as a self-sustaining bread basket and turn to new studies of the prehistory of the Chuska Slope and its connection to Chaco Canyon,” he writes.

Tankersley and his colleagues have not yet been contacted for a response.

 

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