Letter | Published:

Early maize agriculture and interzonal interaction in southern Peru

Nature volume 440, pages 7679 (02 March 2006) | Download Citation



Over the past decade, increasing attention to the recovery and identification of plant microfossil remains from archaeological sites located in lowland South America has significantly increased knowledge of pre-Columbian plant domestication and crop plant dispersals in tropical forests and other regions1,2,3,4. Along the Andean mountain chain, however, the chronology and trajectory of plant domestication are still poorly understood for both important indigenous staple crops such as the potato (Solanum sp.) and others exogenous to the region, for example, maize (Zea mays)5,6. Here we report the analyses of plant microremains from a late preceramic house (3,431 ± 45 to 3,745 ± 65 14C bp or 3,600 to 4,000 calibrated years bp) in the highland southern Peruvian site of Waynuna. Our results extend the record of maize by at least a millennium in the southern Andes, show on-site processing of maize into flour, provide direct evidence for the deliberate movement of plant foods by humans from the tropical forest to the highlands, and confirm the potential of plant microfossil analysis in understanding ancient plant use and migration in this region.

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D. Goldstein provided modern Andean plant materials for comparative purposes. This work was supported by a grant from the Heinz Charitable Trust Latin American Archaeology Program, and funding from FERCO and the Office of the Provost, Ithaca College, and from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Author information


  1. Archaeobiology Program, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, PO Box 37012, MRC 112, Washington, DC 20013-7012, USA

    • Linda Perry
    •  & Dolores R. Piperno
  2. Department of Anthropology, S. Stevens Hall, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469-5773, USA

    • Daniel H. Sandweiss
  3. Climate Change Institute, Bryand Global Sciences Center, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469, USA

    • Daniel H. Sandweiss
    •  & Kurt Rademaker
  4. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado Postal 0843-03092, Balboa, Ancon, Republic of Panama

    • Dolores R. Piperno
  5. Department of Anthropology, G121 Gannett Center, Ithaca College, 953 Danby Road, Ithaca, New York 14850, USA

    • Michael A. Malpass
  6. Museo Contisuyo, Jr. Tacna 294, Moquegua, Perú

    • Adán Umire
  7. Instituto Nacional de Cultura, Alameda San Lázaro 120, Arequipa, Perú

    • Pablo de la Vera


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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Linda Perry.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Figure 1

    Clump of hard endosperm type maize starch granules (Cat 33 segunda).

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Figure 2

    Soft endosperm type maize starch granule (Cat 11 b).

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Figure 3

    Variant 1 cross phytolith of maize (Cat 33 segunda).

  4. 4.

    Supplementary Figure 4

    Possible Solanum sp. starch granule (Cat 30 b).

Word documents

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    Supplementary Methods

    This file contains additional details of the methods used in this study.

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