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Early maize agriculture and interzonal interaction in southern Peru


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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Figure 1: Location of Waynuna and detail of the excavated Late Preceramic house and associated stratigraphy.
Figure 2: Starch granules and phytoliths recovered from sediment samples and tool surfaces.


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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.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Linda Perry.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1

Clump of hard endosperm type maize starch granules (Cat 33 segunda). (PDF 53 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

Soft endosperm type maize starch granule (Cat 11 b). (PDF 92 kb)

Supplementary Figure 3

Variant 1 cross phytolith of maize (Cat 33 segunda). (PDF 35 kb)

Supplementary Figure 4

Possible Solanum sp. starch granule (Cat 30 b). (PDF 11 kb)

Supplementary Methods

This file contains additional details of the methods used in this study. (DOC 22 kb)

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Perry, L., Sandweiss, D., Piperno, D. et al. Early maize agriculture and interzonal interaction in southern Peru. Nature 440, 76–79 (2006).

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