Invisible Clues to New World Plant Domestication

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Science  14 Feb 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5609, pp. 1029-1030
DOI: 10.1126/science.1081624

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For decades, most archaeological studies pointed to New World plant domestication originating in the upland regions of Mexico and South America. But as Bryant explains in his Perspective, these studies focused on the visible remains of plants, such as seeds, fruits, and corn kernels and cobs, neglecting microscopic remains such as plant crystals or phytoliths. On the basis of phytolith evidence, Piperno and Stothert report that domesticated species of Cucurbita (squash and gourds) were grown in coastal Ecuador between 9000 and 10,000 years ago, earlier than at any other known site.