Earliest-known Evidence of Peanut, Cotton and Squash Farming Found

Anthropologists working on the slopes of the Andes in northern Peru have discovered the earliest-known evidence of peanut, cotton and squash farming dating back 5,000 to 9,000 years. Their findings provide long-sought-after evidence that some of the early development of agriculture in the New World took place at farming settlements in the Andes.

The discovery was published in the June 29 issue of Science.

The research team made their discovery in the Ñanchoc Valley, which is approximately 500 meters above sea level on the lower western slopes of the Andes in northern Peru.

“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,” Tom D. Dillehay, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University and lead author on the publication, said. “Our new findings indicate that agriculture played a broader role in these sweeping developments than was previously understood.”

Dillehay and his colleagues found wild-type peanuts, squash and cotton as well as a quinoa-like grain, manioc and other tubers and fruits in the floors and hearths of buried preceramic sites, garden plots, irrigation canals, storage structures and on hoes. The researchers used a technique called accelerator mass spectrometry to determine the radiocarbon dates of the materials. Data gleaned from botanists, other archaeological findings and a review of the current plant community in the area suggest the specific strains of the discovered plant remains did not naturally grow in the immediate area.

“The plants we found in northern Peru did not typically grow in the wild in that area,” Dillehay said. “We believe they must have therefore been domesticated elsewhere first and then brought to this valley by traders or mobile horticulturists.

“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 researchers dated the squash from approximately 9,200 years ago, the peanut from 7,600 years ago and the cotton from 5,500 years ago.

Source: http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/531067/

Polynesians beat Columbus to the Americas

Prehistoric Polynesians beat Europeans to the Americas, according to a new analysis of chicken bones.

The work provides the first firm evidence that ancient Polynesians voyaged as far as South America, and also strongly suggests that they were responsible for the introduction of chickens to the continent – a question that has been hotly debated for more than 30 years.

Chilean archaeologists working at the site of El Arenal-1, on the Arauco Peninsula in south-central Chile, discovered what they thought might be the first prehistoric chicken bones unearthed in the Americas. They asked Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and colleagues to investigate.

The group carbon-dated the bones and their DNA was analysed. The 50 chicken bones from at least five individual birds date from between 1321 and 1407 – 100 years or more before the arrival of Europeans.

Read the entire story here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11987

Ancient Seeds Sow Debate Over Sunflower-Farming Origins

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News

April 28, 2008

Sunflowers were grown as a domesticated crop in Mexico more than 2,000 years ago, according to a new study. The new findings run counter to a theory that sunflower farming began in what is now the U.S. East and then trickled south into Mexico.

Plant remains discovered in a dry cave suggest that farmers in Mexico were cultivating sunflower strains with large seeds by around 300 B.C.

A 2001 study by the same team had found evidence of Mexican sunflower domestication as early as 2600 B.C., but that finding was controversial.

A Smithsonian Institution expert on early agriculture has argued that the remains described by the team in 2001 had been incorrectly identified as sunflowers.

Eastern U.S. Origins

Sunflowers were a cultivated food crop in what is now the eastern United States 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, most experts agree.

But did sunflower farming spread south from eastern North America to Mexico and beyond? Or did ancient Mexicans develop sunflower farming on their own?

The latest evidence supports an independent origin for Mexican sunflower farming, said study leader David Lentz of the University of Cincinnati.

Read the full story here:


For ‘ancient grains,’ a future in the American diet

ALBANY, New York (AP) — Amid the aisles of spaghetti and canned peas, cereals and breads made with mysterious-sounding grains such as amaranth and quinoa are sprouting up at major supermarkets.

Wheat is still king of this country’s whole grains, but the appearance of such alternatives indicates consumers are beginning to expand a niche market once relegated to the obscure corners of health food stores.

“People are realizing there’s a benefit to eating a diversity of grains — and these grains have some incredible nutritional properties,” said Carole Fenster, an author of numerous cookbooks that incorporate wheat-free grains.

New federal guidelines recommending three servings of whole grains a day have put a spotlight on wheat, but exposure to barley, brown rice and other options has also grown, said Alice Lichtenstein, chair of the nutrition committee at the American Heart Association.

According to the marketing information company ACNielsen, sales of products with whole grain claims on their packages for the year ending April 22 increased 9.5 percent from the previous year.

NuWorld Amaranth, one of the country’s main buyers of amaranth, reported a 300 percent increase in sales in the past three years. Bob’s Red Mill, which sells alternative wheat-free grains, saw a 25 percent increase in sales in the past year, with quinoa driving the bulk of the growth.

Amaranth, grown for millennia by the Aztecs, has twice as much iron as wheat and is higher in protein and fiber. Quinoa, an ancient Andean crop, has less fiber but more protein and iron than wheat.



Researchers unearth glimpse of Adena hunter-to-farmer shift

Ohio’s Adena culture represents a turning point in state history. Situated between the nomadic hunting and gathering cultures of the Archaic period and the more settled farming cultures of the later Woodland period, the Adena culture represented the dawn of a new way of life for Ohio’s ancient people.

Archaeologists now are fleshing out the details of the daily lives of Ohio’s first farmers, who were known mostly for their mortuary and ritual sites, such as Chillicothe’s Adena Mound, for which the culture is named.

Archaeologists Craig Keener and Kevin Nye, with the Professional Archaeological Services Team in Plain City, investigated three Adena encampments in central Ohio that show strong continuities with the earlier hunting and gathering way of life as well as hints of the changes that, in Asia, are described as the Neolithic Revolution.

Their results are reported in the current issue of the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology.

The three sites are situated in the uplands and likely represent autumn camps focused on gathering and processing nuts — especially hickory nuts. Before this work, most known Adena habitation sites and camps were located along rivers. The upland setting and the focus on nut collecting are more what we would expect for Archaic period camps.

New developments are revealed by the presence of broken pots and, in one pit, a handful of seeds representing the earliest domesticated plants in Ohio: goosefoot, sumpweed and maygrass.

The pottery suggests a less nomadic way of life, because the large pots of the Adena were both heavy and fragile. The seeds indicate an increasing commitment to food production rather than simply collection of Ohio’s natural bounty.

The sites that Keener and Nye studied capture a glimpse of groups on the cusp of change — no longer simply hunter-gatherers and not yet fully committed farmers. Such sites will provide the clues to understanding how small steps led to a giant leap for humankind.

Read the story here.