Economic Botany

, Volume 68, Issue 1, pp 67–84 | Cite as

The Food System during the Formative Period in West Mesoamerica1

  • Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal
  • Alondra Flores-Silva
  • Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín
Article

The Food System during the Formative Period in West Mesoamerica. How was the food system structured in West Mesoamerica during the Formative Period (2400 B.C.E.–100 C.E.)? The answer is important to understanding the high cultural development accomplished by the Mesoamerican civilizations throughout the Early Classic Period (100–400 C.E.). In the same native communities of Náhuatl origins for which we previously reconstructed their putative pre–ceramic food system, we investigated the ancient dishes that could have been developed in the Formative Period; we cooked using wild, cultivated, and domesticated native plants; and we employed ceramic technologies from that time. We also recorded the ceramic objects from the Formative Period and Early Classic Period exhibited in local museums that had representations of plants, animals, and foods. We found that the Formative Period food system could have included more than 66 dishes and drinks with 29 cultivated and domesticated native plants. Compared with the putative Archaic Period food system, its nucleus continued to be composed by Zea mays, Phaseolus spp., Cucurbita argyrosperma, Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme, Physalis philadelphica, Capsicum annum, Hyptis suaveolens, and Spondias purpurea. These plants probably had more variants than in the pre–ceramic period, and maize gained greater relevance. The most important innovations were cooking in water and vapor, nixtamalization (soaking and cooking with water that contains lime), and possibly distillation. The elaboration of food using ceramics could have facilitated the transformation of the ingredients, raised their quality and the number of dishes, and introduced new selective pressures on the cultivated plants, all of which probably had an impact on their diversification, domestication and productivity, and on the complexity of the agro–food system.

Key Words

Agro–food system foodways Formative Period Milpa Zea Phaseolus Cucurbita Capsicum Solanum ethnobotany West Mesoamerica 

El Sistema alimentario durante el Período Formativo en el Oeste de Mesoamérica. ¿Cómo se estructuró el sistema alimentario durante el Periodo Formativo en el Occidente de Mesoamérica (2400 a.C.– 100 d.C.)? La respuesta es importante para entender el alto desarrollo cultural que alcanzaron las civilizaciones Mesoamericanas en el Periodo Clásico temprano (100 d.C.–400 d.C.). En las mismas comunidades nativas de origen Náhuatl para las cuales previamente reconstruimos su sistema alimentario pre–cerámico putativo, investigamos los platillos antiguos que pudieron haberse desarrollado en el Periodo Formativo usando plantas nativas silvestres, cultivadas y domesticadas, y empleando tecnología cerámica de ese periodo. Registramos además, objetos de cerámica de los periodos Formativo y Clásico Temprano exhibidos en museos y catálogos que representan plantas, animales y alimentos. Encontramos que el sistema alimentario pudo incluir más de 66 platillos y bebidas elaborados con 29 plantas nativas cultivadas y domesticadas. Su núcleo siguió conformado por Zea mays, Phaseolus spp., Cucurbita argyrosperma, Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme, Physalis philadelphica, Capsicum annum, Hyptis suaveolens, and Spondias purpurea. Estas plantas probablemente tuvieron más variantes que en el periodo pre–cerámico, y el maíz adquirió mayor relevancia. El cocimiento en agua y vapor, el remojo y cocimiento en agua con cal (nixtamalización) y, posiblemente, la destilación, fueron las innovaciones más importantes. La elaboración de alimentos usando cerámica pudo facilitar la transformación de los ingredientes, incrementar su calidad y el número de platillos, e introducir nuevas presiones selectivas sobre las plantas cultivadas, todo lo cual probablemente impactó en su diversificación, domesticación y productividad, así como en la complejidad del sistema agro–alimentario.

Supplementary material

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Appendix I(DOCX 26 kb)

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal
    • 1
  • Alondra Flores-Silva
    • 1
  • Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín
    • 1
  1. 1.Unidad de Recursos Naturales, Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán A.C.MéridaMéxico

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