Searching for the lost crops of North America
January 26, 2018 8:09 AM Subscribe
Hunting for the ancient lost farms of North America (Annalee Newitz for Ars Technica) -- 2,000 years ago, people domesticated these plants. Now they’re wild weeds. What happened? One notable archaeologist and ethnobotanist in this field (heh) is Natalie Mueller, researcher (The earliest occurrence of a newly described domesticate in Eastern North America: Adena/Hopewell communities and agricultural innovation; Growing the lost crops of eastern North America's original agricultural system - both abstracts) and blogger, who investigates the Eastern Agricultural Complex in the American South with the Midwest.
Over 2,000 years ago in North America, indigenous people domesticated plants that are now part of our everyday diets, such as squashes and sunflowers. But they also bred crops that have since returned to the wild. These include erect knotweed (not to be confused with its invasive cousin, Asian knotweed), goosefoot, little barley, marsh elder, and maygrass. We haven’t simply lost a few plant strains: an entire cuisine with its own kinds of flavors and baked goods has simply disappeared.
By studying lost crops, archaeologists learn about everyday life in the ancient Woodland culture of the Americas, including how people ate plants that we call weeds today. But these plants also give us a window on social networks in the ancient Americas. Scientists can track the spread of cultivated seeds from one tiny settlement to the next in the vast region that would one day be known as the United States. This reveals which groups were connected culturally and how they formed alliances through food and farming.
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