Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ENV: Some southern corn

Ancient corn found in Peruvian Andes
Discovery helps scientists see how cultivation spread in Americas
Reuters, Updated: 1:29 p.m. ET March 1, 2006

LONDON - Corn was grown and eaten by people living in the Andes in Peru about 1,000 years earlier than previously thought, researchers said on Wednesday.

The crop, known as maize in Britain and some other countries, was first used in Mexico about 10,000 years ago. Although researchers knew it had migrated down to South America, exactly when it was domesticated there was poorly understood.

“This is the earliest use of maize in this region of the Andes,” said Linda Perry of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington. “We have good evidence they were growing the plants on site and that they were processing it into flour.”

The scientists were looking for plant remains to determine the diet of the people who lived in the area long ago when they discovered microscopic grains of corn, potato and arrowroot on the floor of a circular stone house and on grinding tools in the settlement of Waynuna dating between 3,600 and 4,000 years old.

“Our results extend the record of maize by a least a millennium in the southern Andes,” said Perry, who reported the findings in the journal Nature.

“They show on-site processing of maize into flour and provide direct evidence for the deliberate movement of plant foods by humans from the tropical forest to the highlands. These data confirm what many archaeologists have suspected for a long time but were not able to prove.”

The discovery of arrowroot was also significant, she said, because it probably could not have been grown in a high-altitude region like Waynuna, which suggests it was brought there from another area and may have been a bartering commodity.

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