News FocusProfile: Dolores Piperno

In Archaeobotanist's Hands, Tiny Fossils Yield Big Answers

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Science  02 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5987, pp. 28-29
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5987.28

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Archaeobotanist Dolores Piperno has used microscopic fossils of plants to trace the origins of agriculture in the Americas, for example last year reporting the earliest known maize (corn) from a valley in southern Mexico. For many researchers, her work on maize reconciled the genetic and archaeological evidence and ended a long debate about whether maize had been domesticated in the highlands or the lowlands. A key element behind Piperno's success, her admirers say, has been a determination to plant herself firmly on the scientific side of archaeology, a field that represents an often uneasy marriage between science and the humanities.