Chumash land management

In "Chia and the Chumash: A Reconsideration of Sage Seeds in Southern California," Jan Timbrook at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History presents evidence that the Chumash and surrounding tribes actively managed the land (Timbrook, 1986). For instance, they burned certain areas to encourage the growth of Salvia columbariae, the sage plant that produces chia seeds. While other sage seeds are also edible, Timbrook argues the evidence suggests the Chumash ate mainly chia, which has a superior protein and fat content to the other types.

Ancient agriculture in Mexico

Dolores R. Piperno discusses the origins of agriculture and recent evidence for the cultivation of maize more than 7000 years ago in Mexico. Food surpluses made possible by agricultural economies have fueled major cultural developments during the past 10,000 years, culminating in the emergence of urban societies and advanced civilizations around the world. The current consensus is that agriculture arose independently in 6 to 8 regions of the world, including both hemispheres of the Americas, after termination of the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago.

Mexico was one of the primary centers of agriculture with domestication of maize, and new evidence suggesting that it was also a birthplace of another important American crop plant, the sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.).

The earliest macrofossils (cobs) of maize have been found in the arid highland Tchuacan and Oaxaca valleys. It has been argued on the basis of these macrofossils that corn was domesticated much later, approximately 6000 years ago, than other major cereals such as wheat and rice. But recently K. Pope et al (2001) reported the recovery of 7100-year-old maize pollen from the San Andres site on the tropical coast of Mexico, the sample in association with indicators of land-clearance resulting from slash-and-burn cultivation. This is the oldest evidence for maize in Mexico, predating the earlier macrofossil evidence by 1000 years.

Pope, K. et al. (2001). Origin and Environmental Setting of Ancient Agriculture in the Lowlands of Mesoamerica. Science 292: 1370-1373.

Source: Scienceweek, 3 Aug 2001

ARCHAEOLOGY: Climate and Farming
Reported by Brooks Hanson, Science 293. 5531 (August 3 2001)

Agriculture evidently arose in several societies after the beginning of the Holocene, about 10,000 years ago, even though many earlier Pleistocene societies were quite sophisticated. Richerson et al. offer an overview of what is known of the development of agriculture in different societies and propose that sustainable agriculture was impossible during the Pleistocene but compulsory during the Holocene. They argue that the climate during the Pleistocene was incompatible with agriculture; globally, it was drier and dustier, and large shifts in climate were frequent enough to inhibit cultural evolution (from hunting-gathering to farming). In contrast, during the more stable, wet, and warmer climate of the Holocene, population pressure would create feedback that catalyzed the development of agriculture. They present numerical models to support their comparisons between the pace of cultural change and climate variation.

Am. Antiq. 66, 387 (2001).






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