Mummy's amazing American maize

Feb 14, 2007
Andean Mummy
The Andean mummy. Credit: Dr. Veronica Lia

The far-reaching influence of Spanish and Portuguese colonisers appears not to have extended to South American agriculture, scientists studying a 1,400-year-old Andean mummy have found.

The University of Manchester researchers compared the DNA of ancient maize found in the funerary offerings of the mummy and at other sites in northwest Argentina with that grown in the same region today.

Surprisingly, they found both ancient and modern samples of the crop were genetically almost identical indicating that modern European influence has not been as great as previously thought.

"The entire culture of South America changed when the Europeans arrived in the 15th century – everything from the language to the whole way of life," explained Professor Terry Brown, who headed the research in the Faculty of Life Sciences.

"Maize is the staple food crop of the region but prior to colonisation it also had a ritual significance – the indigenous people were amazed by maize and even worshipped it.

"Given the immense changes that took place in South America following the arrival of the Europeans it is surprising that this crop has remained unaltered for hundreds of years."

Using the new facilities in the Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre – a cross-faculty institute at the University – Professor Brown is now examining the DNA of ancient Peruvian maize up to 6,000 years old to determine if these much older specimens are also similar to modern crops.

Source: University of Manchester

Explore further: Subsurface structures discovered at prehistoric archaeological site

Related Stories

EPA says first day of oil spill spent 'planning'

11 hours ago

On the afternoon of the largest coastal oil spill in California in 25 years, graduate student Natalie Phares quickly organized a volunteer bucket brigade to clean a beach north of Santa Barbara.

Insect mating behavior has lessons for drones

12 hours ago

Male moths locate females by navigating along the latter's pheromone (odor) plume, often flying hundreds of meters to do so. Two strategies are involved to accomplish this: males must find the outer envelope ...

Recommended for you

Study suggests that dinosaurs were warm-blooded

May 29, 2015

Dinosaurs grew as fast as your average living mammal, according to a research paper published by Stony Brook University paleontologist Michael D'Emic, PhD. The paper, to published in Science on May 29, is ...

Fossil ancestor shows sharks have a bony past

May 29, 2015

Most people know that sharks have a distinctive, all-cartilage skeleton, but now a fossil from Western Australia has revealed a surprise 'missing link' to an earlier, more bony form of the fish.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.