The Americas Manioc, palm, coffee, and other tropicalss

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  • J. Diamond, Nature (2002)
  • Manioc, palm, coffee, and other tropicalss

Generalized foragers –probably accompanied by dogs - colonized most of Americas by 10,000 BC (Paleoindian), followed by broadly defined Archaic period, generally defined as pre-agricultural cultural groups, although in some cases with plants in incipient stage of domestication

  • Early to Middle Archaic (9500-4000 BC): residentially stable hunting and gathering “band” societies in seasonal base camps; coincides with environmental change in early to mid-Holocene (follows Paleoindian)
    • Middle Archaic (mid-Holocene “Hypsithermal,” ca. 6000-2000 BC): plant and animal communities known today generally fairly well established; generalized resource exploitation strategy, which included the hunting of a variety of animals and the gathering of wild plants, such as nuts, fruits, berries, and seeds, but with increased sedentism and more specialized economies, such as intensive shell-fishing and more intensive plant use
  • Late Archaic (4000-1000 BC): increasing regional differentiation, sedentism, trade, and an expanded dietary inventory that included domesticated plants and fully committed agricultural communities in some areas (Mesoamerica, Andes, and, perhaps, Amazon).
  • Unlike much of Asia and Europe, there was no suite of early “founder crops” that constituted a Neolithic package to be spread by colonizing village farmers. Full-time, sedentary farming tended to be a very late economic strategy in most areas, although each geographic region in North, Middle (Meso), and South America had unique cultural trajectories, including a wide range of domesticated plants and a few animals.


  • Mid-Holocene Climatic Optimum (ca. 6-2000 BC)


  • Broad-spectrum revolution


  • Richard “Scotty” MacNeish &
  • Tehuacan Valley, Mexico
  • The Tehuacan Caves:
  • Coxcatlan & Abejas
  • Tehuacan Valley Caves, Central Mexico (R. MacNeish)
  • Long Sequence 10,000-1000 BC - shift from mobile h/g societies to sedentary farming villages
  • Shift from micro-band settlements (residential camps) to macro-band settlements (base camps), ca. 5000-3000 BC associated with early domesticates (squash, maize, beans, peppers)
  • “Mesoamerican equivalent of the Natufian”
  • ca. 2-1500 BC first fully settled farming villages (in contrast to Near East where domesticates and settled village life seemed to occur at about the same time)

“The Archaic in Mexico (ca. 9500-2500 BC) was characterized primarily by nomadic bands of foragers”

  • Domestication was a long process not a “revolution”
  • Generalized foraging, focal gathering, led to early domestication
  • Agriculture: casual cultivation (tending, transplanting, tilling, sowing), specialized gardening, and field agriculture comes several millennia later

Thomas Malthus

  • An essay on the principle of population as it affects the future improvement of society (1798)
  • Neo-Malthusian premise: population growth is dependent variable, determined by preceding changes in subsistence potential or “carrying capacity
  • Agriculture is something that naturally happens because it is a general cultural improvement, improves peoples lives, and would happen wherever and whenever it could
  • Food Foraging
  • Horticulture
  • Intensive agriculture

Ester Boserup

  • Technology will respond when population growth approaches critical threshold (carrying capacity) creating demographic stress and the need to technologically increase carrying capacity
  • The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure (1965)
  • Mathusian = Black
  • (population = dependent variable)
  • Boserupian = Red
  • (population = independent variable)
  • Carrying capacity

Transition to Food Production at Guila Naquitz

  • Kent Flannery and the Broad Spectrum Revolution (expanding “diet breadth”); Mesoamerica seemed to fit the expectations of Boserup’s model: technology will respond to demographic stress
  • In Oaxaca Valley (Guila Naquitz), variability in year to year productivity; over time improvements occurred in resource extraction to buffer “bad-years,” particularly experimentation during times of environmental stress
  • When the system reached a level of efficiency that could scarcely be improved, adopted cultivation
  • Adoption of agriculture results in fundamental changes and restarts the process (i.e., improvements in existing technology ultimately leading to technological changes)

Guila Naquitz, Oaxaca Valley 8,750-6,670 BC

  • Squash & Gourds (8000 BC)
  • Maize (4300 BC)
  • Pinon nut
  • Basketry
  • Groundstone
  • Deer mandible
  • Scraper

Early agricultural villages widespread by 2000-1500 BC (early pre-classic or formative), and soon thereafter evidence of complex societies in some areas (later in semester; Chapter 16)

  • Early agricultural villages widespread by 2000-1500 BC (early pre-classic or formative), and soon thereafter evidence of complex societies in some areas (later in semester; Chapter 16)
  • Teotihuacan, central Mexico
  • (AD 200)

North America

  • Squash, Corn, and Beans: The “trinity” or “three sisters” of Native American agricultural systems in NA initially thought to diffuse from Mesomerica
  • Early evidence of squash and bottle gourd by c. 8000 BC
  • Squash present throughout much of eastern USA by 4,000 BC
  • Corn and beans from Mexico by 2000-1500 BC to SW USA, added to Eastern Agricultural Complex by AD 1-400 (early dates from Ohio, Tennessee, and Illinois).
  • Sharrow Site
  • Skitchewaug Site
  • Sharrow: squash by 4,000 BC
  • Skitchewaug: corn, beans, and squash and associated technologies by AD 1,000

Archaic Roots of Agriculture

  • Eastern Agricultural Complex (chenopod, sunflower, sumpweed, maygrass, pepo gourd, and bottle gourd)
  • Maize by 300 BC, increasingly widespread after AD1-400; also supplemented by beans throughout much of eastern NA by AD 1200
  • Early pottery, described by Ken Sassaman in SE USA (ca. 2500 BC), important step forward in the processing and cooking of foraged foods and critical in later agricultural complexes (ceramics are traditionally used as a defining characteristic of Woodland period in eastern North America, which follows the “Archaic”, along with agriculture and mounds, but now known to be highly variable across Americas, including Archaic period ceramics in North and South America)

Watson Brake and Poverty Point: Early Moundbuilding Cultures of Eastern North America (pre-agricultural)

  • Poverty Point, LA
  • 1700-1200 BC
  • Watson Brake, LA
  • 4000 BC

Koster Site, Illinois

  • 1968-1979 excavations at Koster site on the Illinois River floodplain, recording 10,000 years of human occupation with at least 26 separate living horizons defined.
  • Major Archaic villages or base camps were present at Koster ca. 6600, 5000, and 3300 BC.
  • House platforms (5 x 4.5 m (16x14’) were foundations for rectangular structures with hearths; numerous storage and food preparation pits in early occupations
  • Fishing and waterfowl, as well as very diversified hunted and gathered foods, including early domesticates of Eastern Agricultural Complex
  • Clear evidence of extensive trade networks that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica), domesticated in South America and diffused to far NE North America by 3,000 BP

  • Chewing coca in South America began by at least 8000 cal BP: authors found and identified coca leaves of that date in house floors in the Nanchoc Valley, Peru. There were also pieces of calcite — which is used by chewers to bring out the alkaloids from the leaves (Dillehay et al. 2010).

Settled agricultural communities with simple irrigation in SW USA ca. 1000 BC

  • Settled agricultural communities with simple irrigation in SW USA ca. 1000 BC
  • Las Capas, Arizona
  • The earliest evidence for agricultural terracing occurs in the highlands of Yemen between 5500-6000 B.P. (through circumstantial ecological evidence) and archaeological recovered terraces by 5200 B.P. Christopher Edens and T.J. Wilkinson 1998. Southwest Asia during the Holocen: recent developments. Journal of World Prehistory 12(1)

Western North American Hunter-Gatherers

  • Food foraging societies, including settled complex societies based on hunted, fished and collected resources, such as in coastal California and Northwest Coast of NA, continue in North America until historic times

Early Maritime Adaptations of Central Andean Coasts

  • Early maritime economies in coastal areas, from late Pleistocene times, at Quebrada Jaguay, Quebrada Tacahuay, and the Ring Site in southern Peruvian coast, including nets and floats (10,700-6500 BC)
  • Las Vegas (Ecuador), ca. 8000-4700 BC, semi-sedentary habitation site with mixed foraging economy, and early domesticated crops (squash, bottle gourd, and possible maize; directly dated to 3300-2950 BC at Loma Alta)
  • Nanchoc (Peru) has evidence of squash, peanut and cotton ca. 7000-5000 BC
  • Cotton and bottle gourd important industrial crops for fishing economies (nets and floats), which provides basis for suggesting that not only early settled communities but also early complex societies depended on fishing

La Paloma (6800-3700 BC): fishing village that at maximum had 50 small, circular dome houses

  • La Paloma (6800-3700 BC): fishing village that at maximum had 50 small, circular dome houses
  • Chilca (3500-2500 BC): later fishing village with small, circular houses and economy with bottle gourd, cotton, beans, and perhaps, squash and tomato
  • Maritime Foundations of Andean Civilization (M. Moseley, 1975)
  • Chilca (3500-2500 BC)
  • Caral, northern Peru (2600-2000 BC); 3,000 people

Chinchorro (Southern Peru)

  • World’s oldest mummies (6000-1700 BC)
  • National Geographic Magazine (March 1995: 69-81)

High Andean Domesticates

  • High-altitude complex (above about 8,000 ft.): quinoa, potato, other tubers
  • Mid-altitude complex (about 4,000-8,000 ft.): amaranth, peanut, jicama, lima and common bean, guava, squash, bottle gourd, coca, and others
  • Low Altitude complex (below 4,000 ft); coastal areas as noted above and Amazonia

ca. 6-3000 BC •Beans, Chili Peppers, tubers (oca, achira), quinoa (wild cereal grass), and possibly capsicum (candidate for early maize but likely disturbed)

  • Guitarrero Cave, Peru

Asana: Base Camp and Herding Residence

  • Rockshelter first used as (1) temporary hide-working camp for coastal groups (9500-8500 BC), then (2) base camp for hunting band adapted to high sierra (8500-5000 BC), then (3) short-term base camp (5000-3800 BC) for groups more focused on plant resources (3800-3000 BC), then (4) a pastoral camelid herding camp (3000-2300 BC).
  • Domesticated llama (from wild guanaco) and alpaca (from wild vicuña) by 5000-4000 BC
  • Also Guinea Pigs


  • Pedra Pintada (9000-8500 BC): tropical forest foragers;
  • Taperinha (5700-5000 BC) settled river foragers, with potentially earliest ceramics in Americas (no domesticates?)
  • Focused on root crop agriculture and arboriculture, likely very early domestication of root crops, such as manioc and sweet potato, but very little evidence from region thus far: sampling and preservation are big problems
  • Carl Sauer (1952) proposed that tropical regions were critical hearths of early domestication, notably of root crops (vegeculture) rather than seeds
  • Lowland complex: manioc, tobacco, sweet potato, chili pepper, squash, cotton, papaya, avocado, pineapple, and numerous other plants, including peach palm
  • 138 plants in some state of domestication (incipient, semi-domesticate, or full domesticate) used in Amazonia, of which 83 are native, 55 imported, and 68% are trees or woody perennials
  • Manioc, the most important crop (6th most important in world today) likely domesticated early 8000-7000 BC, with archaeological evidence outside of Amazonia by 6000-5000 BC (discusse in later class)
  • Maize appears to diffuse into Amazonia relatively late: after ca. 3,000 years ago, but uncertain
  • Landscape domestication and
  • management of non-domesticated
  • plants and animals and
  • incipient or semi-domesticates
  • (a topic we take up later in course)

Sambaqui (Shell Mound Culture)

  • Complex Shell-fish foragers in eastern coastal South America

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