Variety Is the Spice of Life: Chili Pepper Domestication and Agrobiodiversity in the Americas

Author(s): Katherine Chiou

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "Frontiers of Plant Domestication" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Chili peppers (Capsicum spp.) are one of the extremely rich and varied crop genetic resources of the Americas. The independent domestication of five chili pepper species (C. annuum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, and C. pubescens) across the Neotropics beginning around 10,000 BP was an intricate co-evolutionary process between these piquant plants and humans. As the predominant spice in pre-Columbian cuisines, an important medicinal ingredient in indigenous pharmacopoeias, and a frequent participant in ancient rituals, prehispanic remains of chili pepper have been recovered from numerous archaeological sites across North, Central, and South America. Although the practice of cultivating and consuming chilies survived the ravages of conquest and colonization, beginning in AD 1492, demographic collapse, forced relocation, and changes in land tenure disrupted existing agricultural practices—impacting Capsicum genetic diversity in ways that we are only beginning to comprehend. In this paper, I present an overview of the current state of research on the historical trajectory of chili peppers, highlighting the potential contributions of archaeobotanical data to the broader discussion on plant domestication and agrobiodiversity in the past and present.

Cite this Record

Variety Is the Spice of Life: Chili Pepper Domestication and Agrobiodiversity in the Americas. Katherine Chiou. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 451806)

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 24020