Sunday, May 17, 2020

An Empire Of Corn

Technology and climate (with climate, in turn, driven by volcanic and geological activity, extraterrestrial impacts, natural gravitationally driven cycles and human activity) is at the root of most long run historical trends and events. This is visible quite visibly in the prehistory of Cahokia.
Corn cultivation spread from Mesoamerica to what is now the American Southwest by about 4000 B.C., but how and when the crop made it to other parts of North America is still a subject of debate. In a new study, scientists report that corn was not grown in the ancient metropolis of Cahokia until sometime between A.D. 900 and 1000, a relatively late date that corresponds to the start of the city's rapid expansion. . . .
Beginning in about 1050, Cahokia grew from "a little village of a few hundred people to part of a city with 5,000 to 10,000 people in an archaeological instant," Emerson said. The population eventually expanded to at least 40,000. This early experiment in urban living was short-lived, however. By 1350, after a period of drought and civil strife, most of the city's population had dispersed. 
Scientists who theorize that corn came to the central Mississippi River valley early in the first millennium A.D. are overlooking the fact that the plant had to adapt to a completely different light and temperature regime before it could be cultivated in the higher latitudes, said Simon, who conducted an exhaustive analysis of corn kernels found at Cahokia and elsewhere in the Midwest. 
"Corn was originally cultivated in Mesoamerica," she said. "Its flowering time and production time are controlled by the amount of sunlight it gets. When it got up into this region, its flowering was no longer corresponding to the available daylight. If you planted it in the spring, it wouldn't even start to flower until August, and winter would set in before you could harvest your crop." 
The plant had to evolve to survive in this northerly climate, Simon said. 
"It was probably only marginally adapted to high latitudes in what is now the southwestern United States by 0 A.D.," she said. "So, the potential for successful cultivation in the Midwest at this early date is highly problematic." 
When they analyzed the carbon isotopes in the teeth and bones of 108 individuals buried in Cahokia between 600 and 1400, researchers saw a signature consistent with corn consumption beginning abruptly between 950 and 1000, Hedman said. The data from dogs buried at and near Cahokia also corresponded to this timeline.
From hereThe abstract and citation to the paper are as follows:
The history of maize (Zea mays L.) in the eastern Woodlands remains an important study topic. As currently understood, these histories appear to vary regionally and include scenarios positing an early introduction and an increase in use over hundreds of, if not a thousand, years. 
In this article, we address the history of maize in the American Bottom region of Illinois and its importance in the development of regional Mississippian societies, specifically in the Cahokian polity located in the central Mississippi River valley. We present new lines of evidence that confirm subsistence-level maize use at Cahokia was introduced rather abruptly at about AD 900 and increased rapidly over the following centuries. 
Directly dated archaeobotanical maize remains, human and dog skeletal carbon isotope values, and a revised interpretation of the archaeological record support this interpretation. Our results suggest that population increases and the nucleation associated with Cahokia were facilitated by the newly introduced practices of maize cultivation and consumption. Maize should be recognized as having had a key role in providing subsistence security that—combined with social, political, and religious changes—fueled the emergence of Cahokia in AD 1050.
Thomas E. Emerson, et al., "Isotopic Confirmation of the Timing and Intensity of Maize Consumption in Greater Cahokia." 85(2) American Antiquity 241 (April 2020). 

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