New evidence published in the Feb. 25, 2013, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Field Museum curator Dr. Jonathan Haas and colleagues have unearthed physical evidence that settles a 40 year old dispute about the importance of maize in ancient Peru.
Haas and his team studied a total of 13 sites in the desert valleys of Pativilca and Fortaleza north of Lima and discovered a wealth of evidence that supports the use of maize (Zea mays, or corn) as a food staple as early as 5,000 years ago.
“The two most extensively studied sites were Caballete, about six miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and consisting of six large platform mounds arranged in a "U" shape, and the site of Huaricanga, about 14 miles inland and consisting one very large mound and several much smaller mounds on either side.”
Little macroscopic evidence of corn like leaves and cobs was found but an abundance of corn pollen in residences and on tools, corn starch grains on the working surfaces of tools, and corn found in coprolites (preserved fecal material) of both human and domesticated animals indicates that corn formed a central starch source for ancient Late Archaic Peruvians.
Coprolite evidence also indicates that sweet potatoes were a secondary starch source. The major protein source was anchovies.
This evidence settles the debate centering on the influence of corn in early Peruvian agriculture and civilization.