High Altitude Maize (Zea mays L.) Cultivation in the Lake Titicaca Basin and Endemism

Author(s): John Staller

Year: 2018


Scientists have long maintained the upper limits of maize (Zea mays L cultivation was 3,600 masl. Archaeological evidence has documented a particular maize variety called tunqu by indigenous speaking populations, generally cultivated on terraces around the Copacabana Peninsula between 3810 to 4100 masl, in the Lake Titicaca Basin, Bolivia. This is the first known maize variety cultivated above 3600 masl. There were wide-spread landscape modifications such as raised fields and terraces geared to the cultivation of food crops by pre-Columbian civilizations of this region. Colonial accounts emphasize this high altitude maize was primarily consumed as maize beer (aqha, or chicha) and central to ritual offerings extending back to the Yaya Mama religious tradition (ca. 800 BCE). Its phenotypic characteristic are unique, unlike any other known landrace. It appears to be an endemic maize variety, unique to this part of the Titicaca Basin. Evapotranspiration around the lake reduces the diurnal variation in temperatures just enough for maize cultivation to be possible in the Bolivian altiplano. Its prehistory, cultivation, preparation and consumption among indigenous cultures are analyzed as are its botanical and biological characteristics.

Cite this Record

High Altitude Maize (Zea mays L.) Cultivation in the Lake Titicaca Basin and Endemism. John Staller. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443352)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -82.441; min lat: -56.17 ; max long: -64.863; max lat: 16.636 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 19953