Ancient Popcorn Discovered in Peru

Posted on January 18, 2012

Earliest Maize Cob

Scientists have discovered that people were eating popcorn 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. Scientists discovered some of the oldest known corncobs, husks, stalks and tassels (dating from 6,700 to 3,000 years ago) at Paredones and Huaca Prieta, two mound sites on Peru's arid northern coast. An ancient maize cob is pictured above. The researchers say the cobs indicate that the sites' ancient inhabitants ate corn several ways, including popcorn and flour corn.

The research was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in a paper co-authored by Dolores Piperno, curator of New World archaeology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and emeritus staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Piperno says, "Corn was first domesticated in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago from a wild grass called teosinte. Our results show that only a few thousand years later corn arrived in South America where its evolution into different varieties that are now common in the Andean region began. This evidence further indicates that in many areas corn arrived before pots did and that early experimentation with corn as a food was not dependent on the presence of pottery."

The popcorn on the map below indicates where corn was first domesticated in Mexico, nearly 9,00 years ago.

Ancient Popcorn Map

Photos: Tom D. Dillehay (top)/Pamela Belding. STRI (bottom)


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