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Eating and drinking maize: diverging roles for a staple crop in the Formative Americas

Author(s): Michael Blake

Year: 2016

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Increasing reliance on staple crop agriculture has long been a cornerstone of most archaeological theorizing about emerging complex society—and especially early state formation. Comparisons of Formative Mesoamerica and Andean South America reveal the very different roles that the New World’s most important grain crop—maize—played in Formative period and subsequent economies. In Mesoamerica, where maize was first domesticated, it became an increasingly important, and symbolically laden, source of food after about 3000 years ago. Beginning around the same time in the Andean region, long after maize had spread to South America, it became an ever more important source of carbohydrates for producing chicha—a sacred alcoholic beverage. Reviewing recent work on this topic, this paper explores the economic, political, symbolic, and nutritional implications of these two different histories of maize use in early complex societies—in particular during the Olmec and Chavín Horizons.

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Eating and drinking maize: diverging roles for a staple crop in the Formative Americas. Michael Blake. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 402954)


Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America