March 1, 2006

Andean maize 1,000 years older than thought -study

LONDON (Reuters) - Maize was grown and eaten by people
living in the Andes in Peru about 1,000 years earlier than
previously thought, researchers said on Wednesday.

The crop, known as corn in some countries, was first used
in Mexico about 10,000 years ago. Although researchers knew it
had migrated down to South America, exactly when it was
domesticated there was poorly understood.

"This is the earliest use of maize in this region of the
Andes," said Linda Perry of the Smithsonian National Museum of
Natural History in Washington.

"We have good evidence they were growing the plants on site
and that they were processing it into flour," she added in an

The scientists were looking for plant remains to determine
the diet of the people who lived in the area long ago when they
discovered microscopic grains of maize, potato and arrowroot on
the floor of a circular stone house and on grinding tools in
the settlement of Waynuna dating between 3,600 and 4,000 years

"Our results extend the record of maize by a least a
millennium in the southern Andes," said Perry who reported the
findings in the journal Nature.

"They show on-site processing of maize into flour and
provide direct evidence for the deliberate movement of plant
foods by humans from the tropical forest to the highlands.

"These data confirm what many archaeologists have suspected
for a long time but were not able to prove."

The discovery of arrowroot was also significant, she said,
because it probably could not have been grown in a high
altitude region like Waynuna, which suggests it was brought
there from another area and may have been a bartering