In a paper due to be published in the June 29th edition of ‘Science’, Tom Dillehay, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University, claims to have found the oldest evidence yet of preceramic horticulture, specifically from the Ñanchoc Valley; here are some details of the discoveries from EurekAlert!

Anthropologists working on the slopes of the Andes in northern Peru have discovered the earliest-known evidence of peanut, cotton and squash farming dating back 5,000 to 9,000 years. Their findings provide long-sought-after evidence that some of the early development of agriculture in the New World took place at farming settlements in the Andes.

Although this early form of agriculture has long been suspected to have existed, it is the implied complexity and intricacy of these preceramic societies which mark them out as especially noteworthy .

Dillehay and his colleagues found wild-type peanuts, squash and cotton as well as a quinoa-like grain, manioc and other tubers and fruits in the floors and hearths of buried preceramic sites, garden plots, irrigation canals, storage structures and on hoes. The researchers used a technique called accelerator mass spectrometry to determine the radiocarbon dates of the materials. Data gleaned from botanists, other archaeological findings and a review of the current plant community in the area suggest the specific strains of the discovered plant remains did not naturally grow in the immediate area.

“The use of these domesticated plants goes along with broader cultural changes we believe existed at that time in this area, such as people staying in one place, developing irrigation and other water management techniques, creating public ceremonials, building mounds and obtaining and saving exotic artifacts.”

Next it’s off to the NYT, and an article by John Noble Wilford, in which reference is made to another related paper by ethnobotanist Eve Emshwiller, of the University of Wisconsin, who contends that this early experiment that would lead to fully settled, agricultural societies, had happened almost as soon as mankind had arrived in the Americas at 13,000 bp.

Although there appears to be good evidence that people had arrived in Americas long before that date, the Andean people discussed here may have been amongst the first to arrive in the Ñanchoc region. Comparison is made with other sites where early domestication of crops has been documented,

The article also noted that 10,000-year-old cultivated squash seeds have recently been reported in Mexico, along with evidence of domesticated maize there by 9,000 years ago. Scholars now think that plants were domesticated independently in at least 10 “centres of origin;” those centres, in addition to the Middle East, Mexico and Peru, include places in Africa, southern India, China and New Guinea.

In the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, an arc from modern-day Israel through Syria and south-eastern Turkey to Iraq, wheat and barley were domesticated at least 10,000 years ago, and rye may have been domesticated 13,000 years ago. Experts in ancient agriculture suspect that the transition from foraging to cultivation started much earlier than that, and was not as abrupt a transformation as the archaeological record would seem to indicate.

It has often been remarked upon how the domestication of crops appeared to happen almost simultaneously at a series of sites separated from each other by thousands of miles, at a time when it is thought there was little or no contact between most, if not all the centres of development, but in Peru, the sudden move to monumental architecture around 5,000 years ago was yet another example of how cultural evolution could suddenly produce unprecedented levels of sophistication, often without any prior indication of a coming change. One of the best websites I have come across which describes and addresses many of these issues is that of James Q. Jacobs, to which a visit is highly recommended. (TJ)

see also: Domestication Palooza

Bone Cutting, Placement, Cannibalism? Middle Preceramic Mortuary Patterns Of Ñanchoc, Northern Peru

Evidence Found For Canals That Watered Ancient Peru

Preceramic Irrigation Canals In The Peruvian Andes

image: Pucará from here