Southerners taught the Maya how to plant corn

(ORDO NEWS) — Previously unknown migration of people in Mesoamerica led to the emergence of advanced agriculture.

When it comes to pre-Columbian America, they usually remember the great civilizations of the Incas, Aztecs and Maya – we know quite a lot about them thanks to a large number of archaeological sites, as well as written Spanish sources. But the prehistory of these civilizations has been studied extremely poorly.

An international group of anthropologists, archaeologists and paleogenetics led by Douglas Kennett of the University of California at Santa Barbara (USA) has studied the remains of ancient people found in Belize.

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Archaeologists have excavated two caves located in the Mayan mountains on the border of Belize and Guatemala. There they found 25 graves dating from 3.7 thousand to 10 thousand years ago. The high limestone cliffs in this area are difficult to access, so the deposits in the caves are well preserved.

Paleo geneticists analyzed the DNA of the found bones, compared them with the already available DNA data from later finds from other parts of Mesoamerica, and found traces of previously unknown migrations. And several at once.

The early migration of humans from north to south 7.3-9.6 thousand years ago showed only a distant genetic relationship with the modern inhabitants of Mesoamerica, including those who today speak the Maya-Kiche languages.

Then came a previously unknown wave of migration from the south, which began about 5.6 thousand years ago. It had a strong demographic impact on the region, providing over 50 percent of the ancestors of all subsequent people.

According to Keith Prufer of the University of New Mexico (USA), whose laboratory led the archaeological and isotopic studies, these new ancestors come from the same region as the ancestors of modern people who speak Chibchan languages ​​and live from Costa Rica. to Colombia.

The authors of the work consider not only the very fact of migration and the transfer of genes that occurred, but also what effect this had on the peoples affected by such a movement.

Excavations and DNA analysis, scientists say, support a scenario in which early farmers, related to the Chibcha Indians, moved north into the southeastern Yucatan, bringing with them improved varieties of corn, and possibly also cassava and chili peppers..

There, they not only mixed genetically with the local population, but also created new agricultural traditions that eventually led to more intensive forms of corn agriculture much later in time.

In other words, these southerners brought maize and crops suitable for intensive farming to the Maya. “We consider the migration of these people to be of fundamental importance for the development of agriculture and, as a result, large communities that speak the Maya language,” the paper says.

Scientists note that corn was not always an important part of the diet of these people. The earliest migrants probably picked and ate tiny cobs of teosinte ( Euchlaena mexicana ), a plant now thought to be the ancestor of maize. In addition, they ate other plants, shellfish and game.

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By choosing the largest and best seeds, humans began to domesticate the plant, growing larger cobs and increasingly changing the landscape and biodiversity.

As a result, they received a valuable nutritional resource. Corn provided the necessary protein and sugar energy and could be harvested and stored in a dry place. Once people had a reliable source of food in the form of corn, they began to farm and stay in one place, which led to the emergence of large, established communities.

The role of this culture in local society can be judged by the custom of nixtamalization – the treatment of corn kernels in water with alkali.

After it, certain components in the grains can be absorbed by a person more easily, nullifying the risk of developing pellagra and other diseases. Without nixtamalization, the consumption of a large amount of this culture leads to a deficiency in the human body of nicotinic acid and serious diseases.

The distribution of maize grew, moving from south to north, towards the Mayan population, and eventually across both continents. So when the Spaniards arrived on the shores of the New World, corn was the staple food of all the indigenous inhabitants of Mesoamerica.


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