Xanthosoma violaceum and the Maya Diet: Root Crop Use in Ancient Maya Agriculture

Author(s): Theresa Heindel

Year: 2015


Research on ancient Maya agriculture has historically been focused on seed crop cultivation, but the recent discovery of a Classic period manioc field near the site of Ceren, El Salvador has shed new light on the possibility of intensive root crop cultivation by the ancient Maya. Another root crop, however, Xanthosoma violaceum (colloquially known as "malanga"), was also encountered in a household garden. Through the use of multiple lines of evidence, I have compiled a summation of malanga’s possible agricultural roles and opportunities for future research. Ethnographic studies suggest that malanga was most likely processed in a similar way to manioc, and ethnohistoric evidence has been helpful in understanding whether malanga could have been used as famine food or as a supplementary crop. Iconography has also indicated that malanga may have had religious and cultural importance. Finally, in conjunction with current archaeological evidence, I argue that malanga probably was grown in swampy, inundated soils in kitchen garden settings. More broadly, I believe that my research on malanga will provide new and important information on the ancient Maya diet, and how to further investigate past root crop use.

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Cite this Record

Xanthosoma violaceum and the Maya Diet: Root Crop Use in Ancient Maya Agriculture. Theresa Heindel. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396784)


Ceren Malanga Root Crop

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;