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Planet Earth

93. Andean Crops Cultivated Almost 10,000 Years Ago

By Michael AbramsJanuary 15, 2008 6:00 AM

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Archaeologists have long thought that people in the Old World were planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting for a good 5,000 years before anyone in the New World did such things. But fresh evidence, in the form of Peruvian squash seeds, indicates that farming in the New and Old Worlds was nearly concurrent. In a paper the journal Science published last June, Tom Dillehay, an anthropological archaeologist at Vanderbilt University, revealed that the squash seeds he found in the ruins of what may have been ancient storage bins on the lower western slopes of the Andes in northern Peru are almost 10,000 years old. “I don’t want to play the early button game,” he said, “but the temporal gap between the Old and New World, in terms of a first pulse toward civilization, is beginning to close.”

The seeds aren’t the only things that support the argument. Dillehay also found evidence of cotton and peanut farming and what seem to be garden hoes; nearby are irrigation canals. What puzzles him is why the ancients of the Nanchoc Valley would make the switch to farming from hunting and gathering when a walk of just an hour and a half would bring them to a forest filled with nutritious foods. Some clues point to contact with outsiders and the exchange of foods and other products. The squash is not native to the area, and tools made from exotic cherts and jaspers from the highlands can be found in the same ruins. But there are also other factors, including the need for more food, both to feed a growing population and to use for ceremonies and other gatherings. “The general pattern,” Dillehay says, “is that there’s a technological, socioeconomic cultural package that indicates something unique and interesting took place.”

Go to the next story: 94. Saturn Seen In New Light

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