Ancient Mesoamerica

Research Article

MANIOC CULTIVATION AT CEREN, EL SALVADOR: OCCASIONAL KITCHEN GARDEN PLANT OR STAPLE CROP?

Payson Sheetsa1 c1, Christine Dixona1, Monica Guerraa2 and Adam Blanforda1

a1 Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 80309–0233

a2 Department of Geology, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 80309–0233

Abstract

Many scholars have thought the Classic period Maya did not cultivate the root crop manioc, while others have suggested it may have been an occasional cultigen in kitchen gardens. For many decades there was no reliable evidence that the ancient Maya cultivated manioc, but in the 1990s manioc pollen from the late Archaic was found in Belize, and somewhat older pollen was found in Tabasco. At about the same time of those discoveries, research within the Ceren village, El Salvador, encountered occasional scattered manioc plants that had grown in mounded ridges in kitchen gardens. These finds adjacent to households indicated manioc was not a staple crop, and vastly inferior to maize and beans in food volume produced. However, 2007 research in an agricultural area 200 m south of the Ceren village encountered intensive formal manioc planting beds. If manioc was widely cultivated in ancient times, its impressive productivity, ease of cultivation even in poor soils, and drought resistance suggest it might have been a staple crop helping to support dense Maya populations in the southeast periphery and elsewhere.

(Online publication October 05 2011)

Correspondence:

c1 E-mail Correspondence to: Sheetsp@colorado.edu