Farming sprouted in ancient Ecuador

People living in the lowlands of what’s now southwestern Ecuador began to grow squash between 10,000 and 9,000 years ago, about the same time that residents of Mexico’s southern highlands domesticated the vegetable (SN: 5/24/97, p. 322), according to a study in the Feb. 14 Science.

The comparably ancient roots of plant cultivation in these two regions indicate that “in South America, there was no single center of agricultural origins,” conclude Dolores R. Piperno of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama, and Karen E. Stothert of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

In the soil of two prehistoric sites in Ecuador, the scientists isolated and studied microscopic crystals from squash rinds that had been uncovered there. These ancient crystals were the same size as those in the squash’s modern domesticated form, but not those in its present-day wild counterpart. Piperno and Stothert were able to date tiny bits of carbon that were trapped inside the ancient crystals as they formed.


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Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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