Adoption Of Maize In The Soconusco

The fragmentary paleobotanical and archaeological records from the Soconusco region currently support Variant # 1 of the Lotka-Volterra cultivator-cultigen model, initial low-level use of maize followed by gradual increases in consumption rates through time that ultimately resulted in a reliance on maize-based food production. The earliest evidence for the use of maize in the vicinity of the Soconusco comes from the Pacific coast of Guatemala with maize pollen and phytoliths present in non-archaeological sediments dating to between 6000 and 5500 B.P., along with evidence for burning and forest clearance (Neff et al. 2003). Maize phy-toliths were also recovered at Tlacuachero, a Late Archaic Period shellmound in the Acapetahua region (see Figure 6.1), dating to —4600 B.P. (Jones and Voorhies 2004). The macrobotanical evidence for maize; of carbonized cobs, cupules, and kernels comes from Early Formative Period (3800-3000 B.P.) archaeological assemblages in the Mazatan region (Blake et al. 1992; Feddema 1993). Increases in burning and forest clearance, visible in sediment cores and archaeological sites, also appear to be relatively gradual with some punctuated burning events that could represent periods of more intensive farming, at least in certain locations (Jones and Voorhies 2004; Neff et al. 2003).

The appearance of maize at —6000 B.P. did not have an immediate effect on Archaic Period subsistence and settlement practices of people living on the Pacific coast of southern Mexico. Evidence from the Middle Archaic Period site of Cerro de las Conchas (7500 to 5500 B.P.) suggests continued logistical exploitation of littoral resources. Although maize was clearly in the region, no evidence for maize cultivation was recovered from Cerro de las Conchas (Voorhies et al. 2002). This is true also of the early part of the record at Tlacuachero, a later shellmound in the Acapetahua region. At Tlacuachero changes in marsh clam harvesting strategies are evident in an oxygen isotope seasonality study (Kennett and Voorhies 1996). Prior to 5000 B.P. marsh clams were harvested at this location throughout the year with an emphasis during dry season months. A similar shellfish harvesting profile is also evident at Cerro de las Conchas (Voorhies et al. 2002). After 5000 B.P., however, marsh clams were more frequently harvested during wet season months. This culminated at —4000 B.P. with harvesting solely during wet season months (Kennett and Voorhies 1996). The shift in seasonal harvesting patterns is coincident with the appearance of maize phytoliths at 5000 B.P. We interpret this change as reflecting the greater need during the wet season to obtain resources rich in protein from the littoral zone as a consequence of the seasonal difficulty in obtaining game animals and riverine fish from the coastal plain. Intensive harvesting of marsh clams, as evidenced by these massive shell-mounds, ended between 3500 and 3000 B.P.

Our model predicts that the best evidence for early maize cultivation will come from interior settlements on the coastal plain. As previously detailed, complex geomorphological processes have obscured and erased early archaeological sites and ancient land surfaces on the coastal plain. Much of what we know about Archaic Period subsistence and settlement comes from the highly visible shellmound sites along the coast, which we argue only represent part of the overall subsistence and settlement pattern in the region. Therefore, our interpretation of early maize cultivation remains tentative until interior settlements are located and tested. Vuelta Limón, a site on the inner coastal plain that we think was an Archaic Period basecamp, dates to the latest part of the Archaic Period (—3800 B.P.), although the length of its occupation is unknown. The presence of maize phytoliths across portions of the site suggest at least a low-level commitment to maize cultivation by this time.

In the Acapetahua region the earliest visible agricultural villages (Early Formative, 3500 to 2600 cal. yrs. B.P.) were positioned in a line within or near the seasonally flooded wetlands on the inland side of the Acapetahua Estuary (Figure 6.7; also see Figure 6.1). A similar distribution of Early Formative sites is evident in the Pijijiapan area to the north, particularly the site complex of El Pajón (Paillés 1980), and in the Mazatán region to the south (Blake 1991; Blake et al. 1992a; J.E. Clark 1991, 1994; Lowe 1975), where Early Formative settlements are positioned near the El Hueyate marsh (Figure 6.1). Indeed, Early Formative Period sites are found in or near these distinctive wetland contexts along the coast of Guatemala (Arroyo 1994, 1995; Coe 1961; Coe and Flannery 1967; Estrada Belli 1998; Love 1989, 1993) and into northern El Salvador (Arroyo 1995). Excavations at Los Cerritos, an Early Formative Period site in the Acapetahua region (3400-3100 B.P.; see Figure 6.1 for location; Kennett et al. 2002), suggest a mixed foraging and food-producing economy. Shellfish continued to be collected, but not in such vast quantities as previously. Fish from estuarine habitats dominate the fau-nal assemblage, but many other reptiles and mammals also were targeted. Phytolith data suggest that maize was grown in the vicinity of the site and that squash (Cucubitaceae) and wild tubers (e.g., Canna sp.) also may have been cultivated. The strategic position of this settlement between the highly productive littoral zone and dry land suggests to us that the people living at this location were not fully committed to an agrarian lifestyle.

Excavations at several sites in the Mazatán region also suggest mixed foraging and food production during the Early Formative Period (3500 to 3000 B.P.; Blake et al. 1992a). These sites have diverse faunal assemblages that contain a wide range of wild animal species from wetland habitats that were in close proximity to these settlements. Of the seven wild and domesticated identified plants, maize, beans, and avocado were the most abundant (Feddema 1993). Maize was found at the sites of Aguiles Serdán, Chilo, Paso de la Amada, and San Carlos (Figure 6.1). Most of the remains were maize cupules and kernels, but some cob

FIGURE 6.7. Early (-3500- 2600 B.P.) and Late (-2600- 1800 B.P.) Formative Period settlement distribution based on two regional surveys (Voorhies 1989b; Voorhies and Kennett 1995).

fragments were also identified. These data suggest that maize was small (20-40% modern) and that it was not yet a focal resource. Stable nitrogen and carbon isotopic analyses of Early Formative Period human skeletal remains support this hypothesis (Blake et al. 1992b).

A systematic pedestrian survey of the Acapetahua region suggests that settlements were evenly distributed across the landscape by the Late Formative Period (—2600 B.P.; Voorhies 1989b). This suggests to us that maize-based food production was well established in the region by that time. Excavations at the Late Formative Period site of Izapa substantiate this inference (Lowe 1982), as do excavations at La Blanca, a large political and economic center on the northern coast of Guatemala dating to this period (Love 1993). Nitrogen and carbon isotope data suggest increases in maize dependence by this time (Blake et al. 1992b).

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