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Original article in archaeology.org

United States

By ERIC A. POWELL

November/December 2020Alcohol Moonshine Still(Bridgeman Art)

Moonshine still, ca. 1920

Since the earliest days of the Colonial Period, Americans of all backgrounds have distilled spirits from crops, especially grains. In the mid-nineteenth century, the imposition of taxes on alcohol and a growing temperance movement began to drive this cottage industry underground. After Prohibition began in 1920, the market for high-proof illegal alcohol, or moonshine, soared. But, says University of Nevada, Reno, archaeologist Cassandra Mills, this shadow economy is largely lost to history. “You only get records of moonshine production when people were caught and charged,” she says.

Hoping to fill in this gap, Mills has analyzed and dated the remains of more than 100 moonshine stills in Alabama using artifacts found with them. She learned that “pot stills,” aboveground stills often constructed in prehistoric rock shelters, were popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During Prohibition, subterranean “groundhog stills” became the dominant type. She has also identified a localized tradition of “deadman stills,” low-lying contraptions shaped like coffins, which may have been constructed by a single extended family of moonshiners in northern Alabama. Mills points out that production of prohibited spirits offered an economic lifeline to impoverished rural communities, especially during the Depression. “Thirty dollars for a jug of moonshine was nothing for Al Capone,” says Mills. “But it meant everything for a family that didn’t know where next week’s groceries were going to come from.” She hopes future research into stills will show how much chemistry, craftsmanship, and ingenuity lay behind this essential, if illicit, American tradition.

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original in archaeology.org

Peru

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

November/December 2020Alcohol Peru Wari Chicha Brewery(Ryan Williams/Cerro Baúl Archaeological Project)

Chicha brewery, Cerro BaúlAlcohol Peru Wari Serving Jar Deity Cup(Ryan Williams/Cerro Baúl Archaeological Project, Cyrus Banikazemi/Cerro Baúl Palace Project)

Serving jar (top), Front-Facing Deity cup (above)High atop a mountain in southern Peru, leaders at the remote administrative center of Cerro Baúl once entertained local elites with elaborate feasts that helped sustain the Wari Empire from about A.D. 600 to 1000. Central to these gatherings was the ceremonial drinking of chicha, a typically corn-based fermented beverage. Based on the size of the spaces where the feasts took place, archaeologists think that they held 50 to 100 guests who imbibed chicha from vibrantly painted ceramic cups. These cups ranged in size to reflect the status of the drinkers and were decorated with images of Wari heroes and gods, such as the Front-Facing Deity, and more local stylistic flourishes, including llamas adorning the deities’ faces. “One of the most effective ways to bring local elites into the hierarchy of the empire was through drinking Wari beer the Wari way,” says archaeologist Donna Nash of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who codirects excavations at Cerro Baúl with archaeologist Ryan Williams of the Field Museum. “Many of the stories, songs, and ideas that went with that probably would have been expressed using the iconography on the vessels guests were drinking from.”

Because Cerro Baúl was a provincial outpost on the empire’s edge, the Wari relied on local resources and on-site brewing to maintain a steady flow of chicha. Nash and Williams have unearthed a large brewery where high-status Wari women ground, boiled, and fermented corn and other ingredients to produce the beverage. Analysis of residue extracted from drinking cups, serving vessels, and oversize storage jars from the brewery’s fermentation room indicate that the drink was likely a mixture of corn and molle, or Peruvian pepper tree berries, whose seeds the archaeologists found in large quantities in the brewery’s trash pits. Although the Wari at Cerro Baúl didn’t have direct access to fresh water, the region’s temperate climate was a boon for chicha production, even during more arid periods. “Molle berries produce year-round in this environment,” says Williams. “Corn can be double or triple cropped, so you can get two to three times the corn from a single year’s harvest.”

The Wari’s self-sufficiency ensured that feasting events could continue regardless of political disruptions or trade delays elsewhere in the empire. The archaeologists have determined that even the cups the Wari used were made in a ceramic workshop on the mountaintop using high-quality clay from a source they controlled across the valley, rather than imported from the distant imperial capital.

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On this day ten years ago..
via Tracking the Ancestry of Corn Back 9,000 Years

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Phys.org

UNM researchers document the first use of maize in Mesoamerica
Maize, an ancient food source, was first cultivated in the Maya lowlands around 6,500 years ago. Credit: UNM

Almost any grocery store is filled with products made from corn, also known as maize, in every aisle: fresh corn, canned corn, corn cereal, taco shells, tortilla chips, popcorn, corn sweeteners in hundreds of products, corn fillers in pet food, in soaps and cosmetics, and the list goes on.

Maize is perhaps the most important plant ever domesticated by people, topping 1 billion tonnes produced in 2019, double that of rice, according to University of New Mexico Anthropology professor Keith Prufer, Principle Investigator of a team that just released new research that sheds light on when people started eating maize.

Recently published research from his team in the journal Science Advancesreveals new information about when the now-ubiquitous maize became a key part of people’s diets. Until now, little was known about when humans living in the tropics of Central America first started eating corn. But the “unparalleled” discovery of remarkably well-preserved ancient human skeletons in Central American rock shelters has revealed when corn became a key part of people’s diet in the Americas.

“Today, much of the popularity of maize has to do with its high carbohydrate and protein value in animal feed and sugar content which makes it the preferred ingredient of many processed foods including sugary drinks. Traditionally it has also been used as fermented drink in Mesoamerica. Given its humble beginnings 9,000 years ago in Mexico, understanding how it came to be the most dominant plant in the world benefits from deciphering what attracted people to this crop to begin with. Our paper is the first direct measure of the adoption of maize as a dietary staple in humans,” Prufer observed.

Prufer said the international team of researchers led by UNM and University of California, Santa Barbara is investigating the earliest humans in Central America and how they adapted over time to new and changing environments, and how those changes have affected human life histories and societies.

UNM researchers document the first use of maize in Mesoamerica
Excavations were directed by UNM Professor Keith Prufer along with an international team of archaeologists, biologists, ecologists and geologists. Credit: UNM

“One of the key issues for understanding these changes from an is to know what the change from hunting and gathers pathways to the development of agriculture looked like, and the pace and tempo of innovative new subsistence strategies. Food production and agriculture were among most important cultural innovations in human history.

“Farming allowed us to live in larger groups, in the same location, and to develop permanent villages around food production. These changes ultimately led in the Maya area to the development of the Classic Period city states of the Maya between 3,000 and 1,000 years ago. However, until this study, we did not know when early Mesoamericans first became farmers, or how quickly they accepted the new cultigen maize as a stable of their diet. Certainly, they were very successful in their previous foraging, hunting, and horticultural pursuits before farming, so it is of considerable interest to understand the timing and underlying processes,” he said.

Radiocarbon dating of the skeletal samples shows the transition from pre-maize hunter-gatherer diets, where people consumed and animals, to the introduction and increasing reliance on the corn. Maize made up less than 30 percent of people’s diets in the area by 4,700 years ago, rising to 70 percent 700 years later.

Maize was domesticated from teosinte, a wild grass growing in the lower reaches of the Balsas River Valley of Central Mexico, around 9,000 years ago. There is evidence maize was first cultivated in the Maya lowlands around 6,500 years ago, at about the same time that it appears along the Pacific coast of Mexico. But there is no evidence that maize was a staple grain at that time.

The first use of corn may have been for an early form of liquor.

Credit: Keith Prufer and Douglas Kennett. Photo contributions by Brendan Culleton.

“We hypothesize that maize stalk juice just may have been the original use of early domesticated maize plants, at a time when the cobs and seeds were essentially too small to be of much dietary significance. Humans are really good at fermenting sugary liquids into alcoholic drinks. This changed as human selection of corn plants with larger and larger seeds coincided with genetic changes in the plants themselves, leading eventually to larger cobs, with more and larger seeds in more seed rows,” Prufer explained.

To determine the presence of maize in the diet of the ancient individuals, Prufer and his colleagues measured the carbon isotopes in the bones and teeth of 52 skeletons. The study involved the remains of male and female adults and children providing a wholistic sample of the population. The oldest remains date from between 9,600 and 8,600 years ago and continues to about 1,000 years ago

The analysis shows the oldest remains were people who ate wild plants, palms, fruits and nuts found in tropical forests and savannahs, along with meat from hunting terrestrial animals.

By 4,700 years ago, diets had become more diverse, with some individuals showing the first consumption of maize. The isotopic signature of two young nursing infants shows that their mothers were consuming substantial amounts of maize. The results show an increasing consumption of maize over the next millennium as the population transitioned to sedentary farming.

Prufer noted, “We can directly observe in isotopes of bone how maize became a staple grain in the early populations we are studying. We know that people had been experimenting with the wild ancestor of maize, teosintle, and with the earliest early for thousands of years, but it does not appear to have been a staple grain until about 4000 BP. After that, people never stopped eating corn, leading it to become perhaps the most important food crop in the Americas, and then in the world.”

Researchers document the first use of maize in Mesoamerica
Ancient maize cob from Barton Creek Cave. Credit: Jaime Awe

Excavations were directed by Prufer along with an international team of archaeologists, biologists, ecologists and geologists. Numerous UNM graduate and undergraduate students took part in the field research as well as collaborators with the protected area co-management team, a Belizean NGO the Ya’axche’ Conservation Trust.

Conditions weren’t easy for the excavation teams, Prufer noted: “We did five years of fieldwork in two very remote rock shelter sites in the Bladen Nature Reserve in the Maya Mountains of Belize, a vast wilderness area that is a two-day walk from the nearest road. To work in this area we had to camp with no electricity, running water, or even cell service for a month at a time each year.”

Analysis was conducted at Penn State University, UNM Center for Stable Isotopes, UCSB, and Exeter University in the UK. Prufer was the project director along with his colleague Doug Kennett from UCSB. The project was funded by the Alphawood Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The study was conducted by researchers from UNM, UCSB, Pennsylvania State University, University of Exeter, The US Army Central Identification Laboratory, University of Mississippi, Northern Arizona University, and the Ya’axche Conservation Trust in Belize.

Now that the research is published, the team will advance it to the next stage.

“New technologies allow us to look even deeper into molecular analysis through studies of ancient DNA and isotopic analysis of individual amino acids that are involved in turning food into building blocks of tissues and energy. We already have a Ph.D. students working on expanding our work to the next generation of analysis,” Prufer said.


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On this day ten years ago…
via The impact of the diffusion of maize to the Southwestern United States

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MSN.com

Earlier this week, the Cherokee Nation started to distribute its supply of heirloom seeds, which are free to any Cherokee. Last year, the Cherokee Nation Heirloom Garden and Native Plant Site distributed almost 10,000 packets of seeds to any Cherokee citizen who requested them. This seed bank was established in February 2006, and the number of participants who register to receive their two crops has steadily increased every February—although 2019 was its biggest year to date.

a person that is standing in the snow: A man carries one of the newly arrived boxes containing seeds from Japan and USA into the international gene bank Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), outside Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen, Norway, on March 1, 2016.© JUNGE, HEIKO/AFP via Getty Images A man carries one of the newly arrived boxes containing seeds… (more…)

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On this day ten years ago…
via Grand Canyon archaeologists surprised at findings

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On this day ten years ago…
via Trophy Skulls and Beer

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on this day ten years ago…
via Squash Cultivated 10,000 Years Ago

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on this day ten years ago…
via Late Post Classic Maize Goddess Sculpture Restored

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