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Early Squash Seeds, Peru Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008
by Samir S. Patel

Squash Seeds • Ñanchoc Valley, Peru

(Courtesy Tom Dillehay)

New research favors the idea that agriculture began in the New World shortly after it first appeared in the Old World. Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University has the squash seeds to prove it.)

Found in buried house floors in the northern Andean Ñanchoc Valley, the seeds were discovered near other floral remains, including peanut shells, quinoa grains, and cotton bolls, as well as stone hoes, grinding stones, plots for planting, and small-scale canals for irrigation. With accelerated mass spectrometry, Dillehay's team dated the remains to between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, with the 10,000-year-old cultivated squash seeds being the oldest. Similarly old evidence of other species of squash has also been found in Mexico and Ecuador. )

Across the world, in the Fertile Crescent, the domestication of rye, wheat, and barley between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago helped mark the transition from nomadic lifestyles to sedentary agricultural communities that would lead to more complex societies. Plant cultivation appears to have played a similarly central role in the tropical dry forest of the Ñanchoc Valley. Over several thousand years, the people settled down, planted more, managed their water supply, and built ritual mounds--steps toward the more advanced Andean cultures to come. According to Dillehay, "Not only do people domesticate plants, but the plants in some ways domesticate people."

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© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America