Tracing History through Squash Seeds Report Suggests New Conclusions about Beginning of Agriculture in the Americas

Article excerpt

A handful of squash seeds and a bit of rind from a Mexican cave are rewriting the saga of one of the most important turning points in the history of humans in the Americas - the development of farming.

Carbon dating of ancient squash seeds from a cave in Mexico shows that agriculture in the Western Hemisphere began about 10,000 years ago - more than 4,000 years earlier than previously supposed, according to a finding by the Smithsonian Institution.

The discovery means that farming developed about the same time in the Americas as it did in China and the Middle East, according to a report published in the journal Science. The finding suggests that agriculture was simply "an idea whose time had come," said archaeologist Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution, the report's author. "There is a philosophical argument about whether there were only a few smart humans, who passed their ideas along, or whether humans in many different areas came up with the same ideas, like agriculture and fire," said archaeobotanist Dina Decker-Walters of the Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Miami. "What we are finding out more and more is that human species seemed to evolve along similar lines wherever they were located." "We have to ask why agriculture suddenly sprang up," said Kent Flannery of the University of Michigan. …