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Apr 2, 2013

New Research - Maybe the Ancient Anasazi Dined on More Than Maize

New research from an anthropology graduate student at the University of Cinncinati suggests that the ancient Anasazi of the American Southwest had a varied diet that was not limited to maize. Science Daily explores how Nikki Berkebile arrived this conclusion that debunks the traditional "myth of maize."

Studying MU 125 archaeological site in northern Arizona dating from 1070-1090, Berkebile has focused her work on identifying ancient plant remains inside soil samples excavated from the site. What she has found are bits of other plant life the Anasazi might have used a food sources including purslane, pinyon nut, juniper berries, globemallow and even cactus. This would be quite reasonable as the arid land conditions and the seasonal climate shifting between periods of drought and frost would have been challenging if maize was the only main food staple.

She is categorizing her findings into 3 topics:

* Cultivated wild resources: hardy plants, easy to grow and native to the region before the introduction of maize e.g. purslane, globemallow and chenopodium.

* Gathered wild resources: plants native to the region before the introduction of maize but gathered from the wild, not cultivated e.g. pinyon nut, juniper berries and cactus.

* Plants imported to the regions including maize and possibly bean varieties

Berkebile's research breaks new ground in understanding how native Americans used native and wild resources.

Top photo: cactus fruit (tuna) courtesy of University of Texas, Austin

Bottom photo: Anasazi ruins, American Southwest, credit: Rick Schafer

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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