Tracing Zea mays through the Americas using Maize Cob Phytoliths

Author(s): Linda Scott Cummings

Year: 2015


Dolores Piperno has addressed the origins of maize agriculture in the New World through examination of samples from MesoAmerica. Ultimately, maize diffused throughout the world. Prior to globilization, maize spread throughout the Americas. Zea mays is represented by over 100 races in North America alone. My work has focused on the spread of maize agriculture, rather than its origins. Identifying races of maize is a daunting task for any region of the Americas. The most informative remains for this task, beyond ancient DNA, are phytoliths. Extracting phytoliths from cobs provides a record free of contamination by phytoliths of other origin. Measuring individual phytoliths to obtain population averages uses computer-assisted morphometrics to establish signatures for maize races that may they be traced through time and space. Statistical comparison of signatures obtained for existing races with signatures from archaeological samples first associates the archaeological signatures with those from existing races. Archaeological signatures then are placed geographically and back through time, suggesting contact between peoples and/or movement of people across the landscape. The results of statistical analysis suggest associations of existing races with archaeological assemblages. This association suggests our ability to assign race names to statistically similar races from the archaeological record.

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Tracing Zea mays through the Americas using Maize Cob Phytoliths. Linda Scott Cummings. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 394929)