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date: 26 April 2019

Summary and Keywords

World food systems in the 21st century comprise domesticated plant and animal species that originated from nearly every continent on the globe, spread through exchange and trade, and have been taken up by farmers and cooks worldwide. The indigenous inhabitants of the Americas domesticated several of the worlds’ most important food crops, including maize, potatoes, chili peppers, and quinoa. They also domesticated several animal species, two of which, llamas and alpacas, have become important as alternative herd animals outside of their native Andes. While maize, potatoes, and chili peppers became important globally in the 16th and 17th centuries as part of the Columbian Exchange, llamas/alpacas and quinoa have only gained worldwide prominence in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Unraveling the history of how, where, when, and why these species were domesticated requires the expertise of researchers in the fields of biology, genetics, and archaeology. Domestication is the process by which humans transform wild plant or animal populations into forms that can only be maintained with human intervention. Humans build upon the natural variation in these species but select traits that while desirable for humans, would not be beneficial to survival without them. Using a range of evidence from the remains of ancient plants and animals recovered from archaeological sites to the study of the genetic relationships of living and ancient plant and animal populations, these researchers are revealing how ancient American populations created some of the world’s most important food sources.

Keywords: maize, potatoes, chili peppers, quinoa, llamas/alpacas, domestication, Mesoamerica, South America, North America

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