[Sca-cooks] Researchers find 1,400-year-old crop field

Sharon Gordon gordonse at one.net
Wed Aug 22 07:42:50 PDT 2007

Thought this was interesting in terms of how they went about discovering
what was planted in the field.


Researchers find 1,400-year-old crop field
By Thomas H. Maugh II

Los Angeles Times

Colorado researchers have found the first direct evidence of manioc
cultivation in the Americas, the remains of a 1,400-year-old field in El
Salvador that was buried by volcanic ash shortly after the crop was

Manioc, also known as cassava, produces the highest yield of food energy of
any cultivated crop, and its widespread use by the Maya could help explain
how they sustained high population densities, said archeologist Payson
Sheets of the University of Colorado, who made the discovery in the village
of Ceren.

A village of about 200 people, Ceren was buried by the eruption of a volcano
in A.D. 590 that covered the village with as much as 17 feet of ash,
preserving houses and their contents in remarkable detail.

Based on the height of the corn in the fields and the fact that farming
tools had been put away but bedrolls had not been unrolled, researchers
believe that the eruption occurred early in the evening in August. No bodies
have been found.

Sheets and his colleagues discovered the evidence of manioc cultivation in
June when they were excavating an underground anomaly revealed by
ground-penetrating radar, the University of Colorado said Monday.

The manioc was long gone. What they found were holes left behind in the
solidified ash as the manioc rotted away. They filled the holes with plaster
of Paris, then chipped away the ash to reveal what had been there.

They found hand-shaped planting beds about 3 feet wide and 2 feet high. The
crop apparently had just been harvested.

The idea that manioc was used by the Maya was first proposed in 1966 by
archeologist Ben Bronson. That it provides six to 10 times as much food
energy per acre as corn made it a feasible food source that could support a
population that researchers were concluding reached hundreds of people per
square kilometer.

The new discovery might help researchers develop evidence of manioc
cultivation at other locations, Sheets said.

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