How Maize Turned Into a Staple Ancient Mesoamerican Crop
Archeologists from the University of New Mexico reconstructed changes to the Mesoamerican diet by measuring carbon isotopes in bones.
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO — Archeologists may have found out when cave-dwelling prehistoric Mesoamericans began eating maize as a staple, according to a new study in Science Advances.
Researchers examined the carbon isotope content of 52 skeletons from various rock shelters in Belize. The bones belonged to a representative sample of men, women and children, and evidence showed they were consuming more and more maize.
Writing in a news release, researchers say pre-maize hunter-gatherers from around 9,000 years ago ate wild animals and plants. Then, about 4,700 years ago, the population began to consume maize, which made up 30 percent of their diet.
In the following millenia, Mesoamericans adopted sedentary farming and maize consumption increased to 70 percent of the food they ate.
The authors speculated that human selection and spontaneous genetic changes to the plants then led to maize crops to grow bigger cobs, bigger seeds and more seed rows.
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