Corn and Culture in the Prehistoric New World

Corn and Culture in the Prehistoric New World

Corn and Culture in the Prehistoric New World

Corn and Culture in the Prehistoric New World

Excerpt

Sissel Johannessen and Christine A. Hastorf

The papers in this volume cover many aspects of domesticated maize, but are not primarily about its origins. The purpose of the volume as it was originally conceived was to provide paleoethnobotanists with a compendium to aid in the analysis, regional data synthesis, and interpretation of prehistoric maize. However, the breadth of the subject matter provides information valuable to the archaeologist studying regional prehistory or concerned with the dynamics of culture process, the ethnobotanist studying the interaction between people and plants, the maize specialist concerned with the early history of the crop, and the anthropologist interested in the symbolic role of plants in human cultures.

The volume is divided into four parts. Part One is technical and presents methods and techniques useful to paleoethnobotanists and archaeologists in the analysis of maize remains and of the place of maize in prehistoric diets. The five chapters include a standardized system for traditional metric analysis, statistical methods for the classification of maize remains, a discussion of the interpretation of carbon stable isotope ratios, and a chemical method that can prove useful in identifying maize remains.

Part Two, Evolutionary Relationships, contains four papers by specialists in the genetics of maize. Primarily, they address the complexities of the variation that has evolved in domesticated maize, and the difficulties involved in discerning and correctly interpreting variation in prehistoric maize remains. The question of the relationship between morphological and genetic variation is discussed -- an important question for anyone studying maize evolution on the basis of morphological data. Molecular data, as discussed in Chapter 8, is a new form of evidence that bears directly on genetic relationships among races of maize. In another chapter, scientists of crop DNA present the possibilities of molecular analysis of even ancient maize. This technique opens exciting prospects for clarifying the ramifications . . .

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