Archaeological maize from Peru

Detailed studies of archaeological maize samples show that on the North Coast of Peru new types were introduced with each new cultural shift between 1050 B.C. and A.D. 600. Study of the 903 Gallinazo cobs excavated from the uppermost layers of the Huaca Prieta site, mostly a preceramic, pre-maize midden, demonstrates great contrast with earlier Cupisnique and Salinar maize arrays and with a later Moche sample. The Cupisnique material (161 specimens) comes from just north of Huaca Prieta (excavated by Junius Bird in the Chicama Valley just north of Trujillo, as were the Gallinazo specimens). Salinar maize is represented by over 200 whole cobs and fragments excavated by Michael West at Puerto Moorin in the Viru Valley. The Moche sample is from Huaca de la Cruz in the Viru Valley just south of Trujillo, excavated by Duncan Strong and Cliff Evans. Except for West's specimens, the collections have long been stored at the Botanical Museum of Harvard University and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

109 of the Gallinazo cobs were measured seven ways, and 21 of the 109 remain unclassified, being unique or intermediate. The measurements were chosen to be measurable on all specimens and to represent as many trends of variation as possible. Cupule outline drawings were also made. The rough data sheets are available; detailed definitions of the variables are forthcoming.

Maize appeared on the Peruvian coast with the start of Chavin influence on ceramics, textiles, metallurgy, etc. at about 1050 B.C. (uncorrected radiocarbon date). On the North Coast, the Chavin-like Cupisnique culture left four maize types at Huaca Prieta (Table 1); types CU-2 and CU-3 are closely related. Just to the south in the Viru Valley, the Salinar culture brought higher row-number types (SA-2 and SA-3) at about 200 B.C. with some specimens so extreme that the cobs are hollow and highly fasciated. Types SA-1, SA-2 and SA-3 may be only forms of one broad type.

Table 1.

Suddenly, the high row-number types disappeared, and at Huaca Prieta, three completely new types appeared with the succeeding Gallinazo culture (types GA-4, GA-5 and GA-6). At about A.D. 150, row numbers fell even more and cobs lengthened with the rise of Moche hegemony, at least in the Viru Valley.

Though no maize of the Middle Horizon (A.D. 550-900) from the Trujillo area has been studied, much evidence points to high row-number types, like the Salinar maize but higher yielding, being important just to the southeast at this time.

Elsewhere in Peru the abrupt changes observed on the North Coast are not seen. Maize from Wallace's Cerrillos site on the South Coast (stored at Harvard) is very like the Salinar and Cupisnique maize, but this evolves into Nazca maize without an abrupt shift (Grobman, Salhuana and Sevilla with Mangelsdorf, 1967, Races of Maize in Peru). On the Central Coast, the Lighthouse site excavated by Feldman has Cerrillos-like maize, judging from photographs, but the nearby Aspero maize (excavated by Willey and Corbett, stored at Harvard) is very variable and includes specimens falling within the ranges of all the Gallinazo types (Towle, 1954, in Willey and Corbett, Early Ancon and Supe Culture). Kelley and Bonavia's Huarmey maize of the Central Coast (a few cobs remain at Harvard) is similarly variable.

Interpretation, though a bit premature, is possible. The samples of maize supposedly preceramic (pre-1750 B.C.) from Aspero and Huarmey seem to be considerably later, unless a very variable maize, with some cobs being as large as maize of two millenia later, is erased from the scene between 1750 and 1050 B.C. to be succeeded by a thoroughly different set of types. Chavin-related maize along all the coast had a similar range of variation and evolved into Salinar and Nazca maize. Gallinazo and, to a greater degree, Moche introduced new types more like maize found to the north both in archaeological sites and in farmers' fields. The interaction of the high and low row-number types may have led to a rapid evolution of Peruvian maize, as Mangelsdorf has suggested.

Robert McK. Bird


Please Note: Notes submitted to the Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter may be cited only with consent of the authors.

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