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New evidence of corn being major staple crop in ancient-day Peru

When immigrants send money to their families, they're providing their loved ones with the resources they need to improve their lives. This isn't too dissimilar to the way in which countries operate, as the buying and selling of natural resources provide the economic engine needed for its people to thrive.

With this in mind, archeologists and anthropologists have operated under certain assumptions as to how South American civilization functioned economically. And for decades, most have thought that the region's vast supply of marine life provided the fuel countries needed to keep their economies strong. However, recent evidence suggests that it wasn't seafood but rather specific agricultural crops.

Trace amounts of corn found on soil samples
According to newly released research from Dr. Jonathan Haas of the Chicago-based Field Museum of Natural History, this was discovered when researching Peru, specifically the Andean region of the country. Contrary to popular belief, Haas discovered that corn, not marine resources, was the primary food Peruvians worked into their own diets and used as a source of trade. This was determined through scientific analysis performed on soil samples and farming tools cut from stone.

Haas noted that this new found research likely applies to other countries within the region as well.

"This new body of evidence demonstrates quite clearly that the very earliest emergence of civilization in South America was indeed based on agriculture as in the other great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China," said Haas.

The microscopic pieces of evidence suggesting corn was a staple crop in Peru are believed to trace back more than 5,000 years ago.

In order to determine this, Haas and his team of researchers focused on various areas of present-day Peru where many people in ancient civilization lived, studying soil samples as well as old residences, trash pits and campsites. More than 200 pieces of evidence, or what the researchers refer to as radiocarbon dates, were accumulated.

While the researchers found several different elements on these samples, the most prominent evidence were the traces of corn, or maize.

Today, farmers still produce corn in Peru, but the researchers were able to determine that the maize samples were not modern-day due to the colors that they turned when stain was applied. There were also differences in size.

For decades, scientists have known that corn was a significant component of agricultural life for much of civilization. This latest evidence suggests that corn cultivation was more widespread than once believed and provided the basis with which civilizations formed their economies.

Most South American-derived corn grown in Brazil, Argentina
As noted by the researchers, corn continues to be grown in Peru, but nowhere near as prominently as in yesteryear. According to the Corn Refiners Association, South America's biggest corn producers are Argentina and Brazil, producing 50 million and 58 million metric tons, respectively, of maize each year.

An interesting piece of information Peruvians may not be aware of is the country's production of potatoes. Archeologists say that the world's first potatoes were grown in Peru, dating back to 400 B.C.

Favorite Peruvian dishes
Corn and potatoes, of course, are still eaten in Peru today, but there are a number of other delicacies that help define Peruvians refined palettes. As noted by the Peru Cultural Society, dishes like cuy chactado, rocoto relleno, oliuquito con charqui and papa a la huancaina are frequently found on families' dinner tables and restaurateurs' menus.

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