Native Americans planted farms with hardy “pioneer” crops 3800 years ago

April 9th, 2009 - 5:12 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic Washington, April 9 (ANI): New evidence of the first farming in eastern North America has emerged which suggests that 3800 years ago, Native Americans planted farms with hardy “pioneer” crops.

The ancient farm was found at a Riverton site along the Wabash River in present-day Illinois.

According to a report in National Geographic News, because the area appears to have been well stocked with wild food sources, the discovery may rewrite some beliefs about what led people to start farming on the North American continent.

Rather than turning to farming as a matter of survival, the so-called Riverton people may have been exercising “free will” and engaging in a bit of gastronomic innovation, say archaeologists.

At least five varieties of seed-bearing plants, such as easily cultivated sunflowers and gourds, were grown at the site, according to the new study.

This “crop complex” is the earliest known in eastern North America. Previous evidence from this time period had indicated that only single crops were domesticated at a time.

Around the world and throughout ancient history, people switched from mainly hunting and gathering to farming as a way to cope with environmental stresses, such as drought.

But, the new research “really challenges the whole idea of humans domesticating plants and animals in response to an external stress (and) makes a strong case for almost the polar opposite,” said lead study author Bruce Smith, curator of North American archaeology at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Before they began farming, the Riverton people lived among bountiful river valleys and lakes, apparently eating a healthy and diverse diet of nuts, white-tailed deer, fish, and shellfish, the study says.

Farming may not have been a necessity but rather a reflection of their “own free will,” Smith said.

The research indicates that the Riverton people likely ate sunflower, marsh elder, two types of chenopod-a family that includes spinach and beets-and possibly squash and little barley, according to the findings.

The people also grew bottle gourd to make into containers.

“Several of these ‘aggressive’ colonizer plant species, such as sunflowers and bottle gourd, are around today,” said Smith.

“Many of the Riverton plant species are so hardy that modern gardeners in the U.S. Midwest or Southeast often find them stubbornly popping up in their backyards,” he added.

According to Brian Redmond, curator and head of archaeology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, the Riverton crops may have “added to what was (already) a successful life” for the ancient Americans. (ANI)

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