Growing the lost crops of eastern North America's original agricultural system

Abstract

Thousands of years before the maize-based agriculture practiced by many Native American societies in eastern North America at the time of contact with Europeans, there existed a unique crop system only known through archaeological evidence. There are no written or oral records of how these lost crops were cultivated, but several domesticated subspecies have been identified in the archaeological record. Growth experiments and observations of living progenitors of these crops can provide insights into the ancient agricultural system of eastern North America, the role of developmental plasticity in the process of domestication, and the creation and maintenance of diverse landraces under cultivation. In addition, experimental gardens are potent tools for public education, and can also be used to conserve remaining populations of lost crop progenitors and explore the possibility of re-domesticating these species.

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Figure 1: Timeline of Eastern Agricultural Complex crop cultivation and domestication.
Figure 2
Figure 3: The lost crops of the Eastern Agricultural Complex.

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Acknowledgements

Funding and support for these projects was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Arkansas Archeological Survey, Arkansas State Parks, US National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant #58292, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Lynne Cooper Harvey Fellowship in American Culture Studies at Washington University, the Sugar Bush Foundation, Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University, and the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University. We would also like to thank D. Piperno for her thoughtful comments, and G. Stone for his suggestion that we write this Perspective.

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Correspondence to Natalie G. Mueller.

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Mueller, N., Fritz, G., Patton, P. et al. Growing the lost crops of eastern North America's original agricultural system. Nature Plants 3, 17092 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nplants.2017.92

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