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Peanuts, cotton, squash first farmed in Peru 6,000-10,000 years ago

Peanuts, cotton, squash first farmed in Peru 6,000-10,000 years ago

Peanuts, cotton, squash first farmed in Peru 6,000-10,000 years ago

June 28, 2007

Anthropologists have discovered the earliest-known evidence of peanut, cotton and squash farming. The study, which show that the crops were grown in the Peruvian Andes 5,000-10,000 years ago, is published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

Dark brown squash seeds (C. moschata). Image courtesy of Tom D. Dillehay

Location map of study area in north Peru. Image modified from Science.

Using accelerator mass spectrometry to date fossilized plant matter uncovered in ancient agricultural settlements of the Ñanchoc Valley in northern Peru, a team of researchers led by Dr. Tom D. Dillehay of Vanderbilt University found that squash cultivation began around 10,000 years ago, followed by cultivation of peanuts about 8,500 years ago and cotton about 6,000 years ago. This evidence indicates that early agriculture in the Andes dates back at about 10,000 years, or roughly the same time as farming took hold in the Old World.

“We believe the development of agriculture by the Ñanchoc people served as a catalyst for cultural and social changes that eventually led to intensified agriculture, institutionalized political power and new towns in the Andean highlands and along the coast 4,000 to 5,500 years ago,” said Tom D. Dillehay, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University. “Our new findings indicate that agriculture played a broader role in these sweeping developments than was previously understood.”

“The plants we found in northern Peru did not typically grow in the wild in that area. We believe they must have therefore been domesticated elsewhere first and then brought to this valley by traders or mobile horticulturists,” Dillehay continued. “The use of these domesticated plants goes along with broader cultural changes we believe existed at that time in this area, such as people staying in one place, developing irrigation and other water management techniques, creating public ceremonials, building mounds and obtaining and saving exotic artifacts.”

The anthropologists dated the squash from roughly 9,200 years ago, the peanut from 7,600 years ago and the cotton from 5,500 years ago.

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