Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Topic: Manioc

My Thoughts:

This article reminds me that sometimes good can come from nature’s disasters. I wonder if manioc was used as currency in the Mayan culture? I welcome any thoughts on the subject.

Anthropologists from the University of Colorado have uncovered the first and only site of ancient, large-scale manioc cultivation in Central America.

Manioc, a tuber also known as cassava or yucca, is still grown today, particularly by traditional South American people, but before the CU team’s discovery no one knew if it was commonly grown by ancient cultures.

“The important thing we found is that the Maya had planted a surprisingly large area in just manioc,” said CU anthropology professor Payson Sheets, who directed the excavation.

The fields are located at the ancient village of Ceren in what is now El Salvador. When the nearby Loma Caldera volcano erupted in 600 A.D., 17 feet of ash buried the village and the fields.

Sheets discovered the site in 1976. It’s considered the best-preserved field of its kind in Central America and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

In 2007 Sheets and his team, who are funded by the National Science Foundation, found evidence of manioc cultivation at Ceren. When they returned in January, they were able to uncover more of the field, which allowed them to conclude that it was used to consistently grow manioc.

Manioc is high in carbohydrates and grows easily in bad soil, so anthropologists suspected it had been used as a staple crop. But until Sheets’ discovery there had been no proof.

Because it has no hard seeds or shell, manioc doesn’t usually preserve well. Manioc pollen has been found before at archaeological sites in Belize, Mexico and Panama, but only in very small quantities.

When the volcano erupted over Ceren the ash sealed over the fields, keeping them essentially the way they were.

“It preserved things in a magnificent way,” Sheets said.

Uncovering the crops revealed that the eruption occurred in late August, and that the field had been harvested just before the eruption, indicating that manioc was cultivated on a recurring basis.

“This is the first time we have been able to see how ancient Maya grew and harvested manioc,” Sheets said.

Now, Sheets and his colleagues are back in the lab looking at botanical samples and pieces of pottery, analyzing the chemical makeup of manioc to try to find ways to trace it at other sites that are not as well-preserved.

First published in the Boulder Daily Camera

By Heather Hansman,
Wednesday, June 17, 2009


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Ancient Figs

ancient perserved figsfigs-ancient and modernTopic: Figs

In an article by Rebecca Morelle, science reporter for the BBC news, I found an even earlier example of agriculture.A team of US and Israeli researchers found carbonized figs from Gilgal I, a Neolithic village in the Jordan Valley, that date from between 11,200 and 11,400 years old.These figs, the article goes on to say are a variety that can only be grown with human help pinpointing the time when humans turned from hunter-gatherers to food cultivation.These small figs, nine in number were found in a house together with wild barley, wild oats, and acorns. The team concluded that the Neolithic people who lived in the village combined food cultivation with hunting and gathering.  These figs which pre-date the cultivation of other domesticated crops such as wheat and barley maybe the first known example (apart from carbonized rice found in Korea dated to 15,000 years ago) of agriculture.

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Topic: Maze

Looking at Current World Archaeology, I’m both pleased and amazed; a grass that marks the beginnings of domestic corn (maze) has finally been found in Mexico. Archaeobotanist Dolores Piperno and anthropologist Anthony Ranere have found what they believe to be a large wild grass (Balsas teosinte) in Mexico’s Central Balsas River Valley that is genetically close to domesticated maze. Piperno and Ranere also found evidence from lake sediments of early agriculture and plant remains that are unique to domesticated maze. Samples were taken from shelters and caves in the area, of tools and plant remains. At one site near Xihuatoxtla, they found grinding tools containing tiny bits of domesticated maze starch in their cracks and crevices dating to 8,700 BP (before present).

Dolores Piperno believes these new findings establish tropical southwest Mexico as an important center where early agriculture occurred in the New World. She also believes this evidence puts maze in the same roster as other important cereals, (such as barley and wheat from the Middle East), that were domesticated and cultivated by 9,000 years ago. For more details see the June/July copy of World Archaeology.

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