Researchers have uncovered corncobs dating back at least 3,000 years ago in two ancient mound sites in Peru according to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The ancient corn remnants, which proved residents were eating both popped corn and corn flour, are the earliest ever discovered in South America and may go back as far as 4,700 BCE (6,700 years ago), over fifteen hundred years before the early Egyptians developed hieroglyphics and while woolly mammoths still roamed parts of the Earth.
“Corn was first domesticated in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago from a wild grass called teosinte,” said Dolores Piperno, curator of New World archaeology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, in a press release. “Our results show that only a few thousand years later corn arrived in South America where its evolution into different varieties that are now common in the Andean region began. This evidence further indicates that in many areas corn arrived before pots did and that early experimentation with corn as a food was not dependent on the presence of pottery.”
The corn was discovered along Peru’s northern coast in the archeological sites of Paredones and Huaca Prieta. Although the find proves pre-ceramic Peruvians ate corn, the study says it was not yet a major part of their diet.
Untangling how maize became domesticated from teosinte has proven quite difficult and complicated, but new discoveries like this held to add pieces to the puzzle.
“These new and unique races of corn may have developed quickly in South America, where there was no chance that they would continue to be pollinated by wild teosinte,” explains Piperno. “Because there is so little data available from other places for this time period, the wealth of morphological information about the cobs and other corn remains at this early date is very important for understanding how corn became the crop we know today.”
CITATION: Grobman, A., Bonavia, D., Dillehay, T.D., Piperno, D.R., Iriarte, J., Holst, I. 2012. Preceramic corn from Pardones and Huaca Prieta, Peru. PNAS early online edition, week of Jan. 16, 2012.
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