Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

CU-Boulder team discovers first ancient manioc fields in Americas

22.08.2007
Prehistoric manioc plantation buried by volcanic ash about 600 A.D. may help explain how Maya supported dense populations

A University of Colorado at Boulder team excavating an ancient Maya village in El Salvador buried by a volcanic eruption 1,400 years ago has discovered an ancient field of manioc, the first evidence for cultivation of the calorie-rich tuber in the New World.

The manioc field was discovered under roughly 10 feet of ash, said CU-Boulder anthropology Professor Payson Sheets, who has been directing the excavation of the ancient village of Ceren since its discovery in 1978. Considered the best-preserved ancient village in Latin America, Ceren's buildings, artifacts and landscape were frozen in time by the sudden eruption of the nearby Loma Caldera volcano about 600 A.D., providing a unique window on the everyday lives of prehistoric Mayan farmers.

The discovery marks the first time manioc cultivation has been discovered at an archaeological site anywhere in the Americas, said Sheets. The National Geographic Society funded the 2007 CU-Boulder research effort at Ceren, the most recent of five research grants made by NGS to the ongoing excavations by Sheets and his students.

"We have long wondered what else the prehistoric Mayan people were growing and eating besides corn and beans, so finding this field was a jackpot of sorts for us," he said. "Manioc's extraordinary productivity may help explain how the Classic Maya at huge sites like Tikal in Guatemala and Copan in Honduras supported such dense populations."

In June, the researchers used ground-penetrating radar, drill cores and test pits to pinpoint and uncover several large, parallel planting beds separated by walkways, said Sheets. Ash hollows in the planting beds left by decomposed plant material were cast with dental plaster to preserve their shapes and subsequently were identified as manioc tubers, an important, high-carbohydrate food source for Latin Americans today, said Sheets.

Evidence indicated the manioc bushes had just been cut down, most of the tubers harvested and the beds replanted with manioc stalks placed horizontally in the soil to regenerate bushes for the next cycle of growth, he said. The presence of volcanic ash just underneath hand-shaped dirt overhangs in the beds indicates the stalks were planted "just hours before the eruption," he said.

"What we essentially found was a freshly planted manioc field that was 1,400 years old," said Sheets. "Once again, we felt like we were right on the heels of these ancient people because of the exquisite preservation provided by the volcanic ash."

Each hand-shaped planting bed was about three feet wide and two feet high -- about 10 times larger than traditional planting beds for corn -- although the lengths of the rows are still unknown, he said. Each manioc stalk, or cutting, had been carefully placed in the ground with a growth "node" pointing toward the surface to generate a new bush and several nodes pointing down to generate the edible tubers and regular roots, he said.

Archaeologists had suspected ancient Mayans had cultivated and consumed manioc for its high-energy value, he said. Also known as cassava, manioc provides one of the highest yields of food energy per acre per day of any cultivated crop in the world.

The CU-Boulder team is working with scientists at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., to develop new soil-analysis techniques to detect starch grains like those from manioc that will work at a wide range of archaeological sites, said Sheets.

"We don't want to find out that Ceren was unique in manioc cultivation," said Sheets. "We hope archaeologists eventually find evidence for this kind of activity at sites throughout the region. From an archaeological standpoint, there are few things as important as discovering the sources of day-to-day subsistence for ancient cultures."

The team also included CU-Boulder anthropology graduate students Christine Dixon and Adam Blanford, geology graduate student Monica Guerra and archaeological geophysicist Larry Conyers. Conyers is a University of Denver faculty member who had worked at Ceren and received his CU-Boulder doctorate under Sheets in 1995.

Sheets and his colleagues previously determined the eruption at Ceren occurred on an early August evening because of the height of corn stalks and the fact that the farming implements had been brought inside but the sleeping mats had not yet been rolled out.

Thus far 12 buildings at Ceren -- believed to have been home to several hundred people -- have been excavated, including living quarters, storehouses, workshops, kitchens, religious buildings and a community sauna. Several dozen other structures located with ground-penetrating radar remain buried under up to 17 feet of ash, said Sheets.

Although the absence of human remains at Ceren initially puzzled scientists, the 1993 discovery that an earthquake rocked the site just prior to the eruption indicated the villagers might have had just enough warning to flee. "They did not even have time to remove their most valued belongings," said Sheets.

Preservation of organic materials at Ceren -- including thatched roofs, house beams, woven baskets, cloth and grain caches -- has been deemed superior to the organic preservation at the Italian site of Pompeii, by archaeologists and vulcanologists who have visited the Salvadoran site from around the world.

Payson Sheets | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu/news/podcasts/

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>