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date: 26 June 2022

Origins of Food Production in the High Andeslocked

Origins of Food Production in the High Andeslocked

  • BrieAnna S. LanglieBrieAnna S. LanglieBinghamton University

Summary

Vertical topography, high altitude, infertile soils, and an arid climate make the Andes of South America a difficult region for agriculture. Nonetheless, archaeologists have found that potatoes, oca, quinoa, and kañawa were first domesticated by ancient famers in and near a region known as the Altiplano. Research indicates that approximately 6,000 years ago hunter-gatherers began to cultivate wild ancestors of these crops. Shortler thereafter, llama and alpaca herders played an important role in developing crop cultivation strategies; potatoes were uniquely adapted to a mobile pastoral lifestyle. By about 1,500 bce there is archaeological evidence that these crops were fully domesticated and supported early village life. Eventually tubers and chenopods were foundational sustenance for civilization and cities across the pre-Hispanic Andean highlands. Breeding over the last four millennia by generations of Indigenous Andean farmers in the diverse environments and climatic conditions of the Andes has resulted in a hugely diverse array of these crops. The outcome of these efforts is that hundreds of varieties of quinoa and over 5,000 varieties of potatoes are grown by Andean farmers in the 21st century. Potatoes in particular are a unique case of domestication for two reasons: (a) ancient farmers figured out how to store them long term through a freeze-drying process; (b) chemicals that are toxic to humans were not bred out of all varieties; rather, ancient people figured out that eating particular clays made the toxic potatoes less bitter and edible. Through paleoethnobotanical and genetic research, archaeologists have begun to shed light on the tangled history of Andean peoples and their crops.

Subjects

  • Archaeology

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