Economic Botany

, Volume 58, Supplement 1, pp S101–S110 | Cite as

Domestication of plants in Maya Lowlands

  • Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín
  • Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal


The Lowland Mayan culture has been one of the most successful in Mesoamerica. Being an agricultural society, part of their success was based on plant genetic resources which satisfied their needs of social reproduction. This article reviews recent evidence on early agriculture in the geographic area where Lowland Maya culture originated, and discusses its implications for the study of plant domestication and evolution under human selection within this cultural sub-area. Questions of interest for future research are posed. As working hypotheses, we list two categories of species possibly implicated in the origin of this civilization: (1) native species that could have been the subject of local human selection or to some degree of agricultural manipulation by 3400 b.c., and (2) species that could have been introduced from other cultural areas of America by 3400 b.c. and subsequently subjected to local human selection.

Key Words

Maya lowlands plant domestication early agriculture 

Domesticacion de plantas en las tierras bajas Mayas


La cultura maya de las tierras bajas ha sido una de las más exitosas de Mesomérica. Siendo una sociedad agrícola, parte de su éxito ha estado basado en los recursos fitogenéticos que han satisfecho sus necesidades de reproducción social. En este artículo se revisa, dentro del contexto Mesoamericano, Ia evidencia reciente sobre Ia agricultura temprana en el área Geogr.áfica de origen de esta cultura, se analizan sus implicaciones para los estudios de domesticación de plantas y evolución bajo selección humana ocurridos en ella, y se plantean preguntas de interés para investigaciones futuras. Como hipótesis de trabajo, presentamos dos listas de especies posiblemente implicadas en el origen de esta civilización: (1) las especies nativas que pudieron ser objeto de selección humana local o de cierto grado de manipulación agrícola desde al menos 3400 b.c., y (2) las especies que pudieron ser introducidas de otras dreas culturales de América, desde al menos 3400 b.c. y haber sido objeto de selección humana local desde periodos tempranos.

Literature Cited

  1. Ballesteros, G. A. 1999. Contribuciones al conocimiento del frijol lima (Phaseolus lunatus L.) en América Tropical. Ph.D. thesis, Colegio de Posgraduados, Estado de México.Google Scholar
  2. Barrera, A., A. Gómez-Pompa, and A. Vásquez-Yanes. 1977. El manejo de las selvas por los mayas: Sus implicaciones silvícolas y agrícolas. Biótica 2:46–61.Google Scholar
  3. Benz, B. F. 1999. On the origin, evolution and dispersal of maize. Pages 25–38 in M. Blake, ed., Pacific Latin America in prehistory: The evolution of archaic and formative cultures. Washington State University Press, Pullman.Google Scholar
  4. — 2001. Archaeological evidence of teosinte domestication from Guilá Naquitz, Oaxaca. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 98:2104–2106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Caballero, J. 1992. Maya homegardens: Past, present and future. Etnoecológica 1:35–54.Google Scholar
  6. Clark, J. E., R. D. Hansen, and T. Pérez-Suárez. 2000. La zona maya en el Preclásico. Pages 435-510 in L. Manzanilla and L. López-Luján, coord., Historia Antigua de Mexico. Vol. I. INAH-UNAM-Miguel Angel Porrúa, México.Google Scholar
  7. Colunga-GarcíaMarín, P., J. Coello-Coello, L. Espejo-Peniche, and L. Fuente-Moreno. 1993. Agave studies in Yucatan, Mexico II. Nutritional value of the inflorescence peduncle and incipient domestication. Economic Botany 47:328–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. — and F. May-Pat. 1992. El sistema milpero y sus recursos genéticos. Pages 97–134 in D. Zizumbo V., CH. Ramussen, L. M. Arias R., and S. Terán C, eds., La modernización de la milpa en Yucatán: Utopía o realidad. CICY-DANIDA. Mérida, Yucatán, México.Google Scholar
  9. Doebly, J. F. 1990. Molecular evidence for the evolution of maize. Economic Botany 44(suppl.):6–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Estrella, J., S. Phillips, T. J. Abbott, A. C. Gillies, and M. Sørensen. 1998. Genetic variation and relationships in agronomically important species of yam bean (Pachyrhizus) based on RAPD markers. Pages 43–59 in M. Sørensen, J. E. Estrella E., O. J. Hamann, and S. A. Rios-Ruiz, eds., Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Tuberous Legumes, Celaya, Gto, Mexico. 5–8 August 1996. macKeenzie Press, Copenhagen.Google Scholar
  11. Eubanks, M. W. 1997. Molecular analysis of crosses between Tripsacum dactyloides and Zea diploperennis (Poaceae). Theoretical and Applied Genetics 94:707–712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. —. 2001. On the mysterious origin of maize. Economic Botany 55:492–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fofana, B., J. P. Baudoin, X. Vekemans, D. G. Debouck, and P. du Jardin. 1999. Molecular evidence for an Andean origin and a secondary gene pool for the Lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus L.) using chloroplast DNA. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 98:202–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flannery, K. 2002. Turning points in the study of early domestication. Pages 289–291 in S. Stoddart and Carolina Malone Editorial. Antiquity 76:287–310.Google Scholar
  15. Hammond, N. 2001. Los orígenes de la cultura maya y la formación de comunidades rurales. Pages 35–47 in N. Grube, E. Eggebrecht, and M. Seidel, eds., Los Mayas. Una civilization milenaria. Könemann, Colonia.Google Scholar
  16. Heiser, Ch. 2001. About sunflowers. Economic Botany 55:470–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Iceland, H. B., and T. R. Hester. 1996. The earliest Maya? Origins of sedentarism and agriculture in the Maya Lowlands. Pages 11–18 in T. Hester, L. Larencich-Minelli, and S. Salvatori, eds., The prehistory of the Americas. Vol. 17. XII International Congress of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences. Abaco, Forli.Google Scholar
  18. Jiménez-Osornio, J. J., R. Ruenes-Morales, and P. Montanez-Escalante. 1999. Agrodiversidad de los solares de la Península de Yucatán. Red, Gestión de Recursos Naturales 14:30–40.Google Scholar
  19. Jobin-Décor, M. P., G. C. Graham, R. J. Henry, and R. A. Drew. 1997. RAPD and isozyme analysis of genetic relationships between Carica papaya and wild relatives. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 44:471–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kaplan, L., and T. F. Lynch. 1999. Phaseolus (Fabaceae) in archaeology: AMS radiocarbon dates and their significance for pre-Columbian agriculture. Economic Botany 53:261–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kaufman, T. 1990. Meso American Indian languages. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed. 22: 85-792.Google Scholar
  22. Lentz, D. L. 1999. Plant resources of the ancient Maya: The paleoethnobotanical evidence. Pages 3–18 in C. D. White, ed., Reconstructing ancient Maya diet. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  23. —, M. E. D. Pohl, K. O. Pope, and A. R. Wyatt. 2001. Prehistoric sunflower (Helianthus annus L.) domestication in Mexico. Economic Botany 55: 370–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lundell, C. L. 1938. Plants probably utilized by the old empire Maya of Petén and adjacent lowlands. Papers of the Michigan Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters 24:37–56.Google Scholar
  25. MacNeish, R. S., and M. W. Eubanks. 2000. Comparative analysis of the Rio Balsas and Tehuacán model for the origin of maize. Latin American Antiquity 11:3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Miksicek, C. H., E. S. Wing, and S. J. Scudder. 1991. The ecology and economy of Cuello. Pages 70–84 in N. Hammond, ed., Cuello: An early Maya community in Belize. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  27. Ogata, N. 2003. Domestication and distribution of chocolate tree (Theobroma cacao L.) in Mesoamerica. Pages 415–438 in A. Gómez-Pompa, M. F. Allen, S. L. Fedick, and J. J. Jiménez-Osornio, eds., The Lowland Maya area. Three millennia at the human-wildland interface. The Haworth Press Inc., Binghampton, NY.Google Scholar
  28. Piperno, D. R., and K. V. Flannery. 2001. The earliest archaeological maize (Zea mays L.) from highland Mexico: New accelerator mass spectrometry dates and their implications. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 98:2101–2103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pohl M. D., K. O. Pope, J. G. Jones, J. S. Jacob, D. R. Piperno, S. D. de France, D. L. Lentz, J. A. Gifford, M. E. Danforth, and J. K. Josserand. 1996. Early agriculture in the Maya Lowlands. Latin American Antiquity 7:355–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pope K. O., M. E. D. Pohl, J. G. Jones, D. L. Lentz, Ch. Von Nagy, F. J. Vega, and I. R. Quitmyer. 2001. Origin and environmental setting of ancient agriculture in the lowlands of Mesoamerica. Science 292:1370–1373.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rovner, I. 1999. Phytolit analysis. Science 283:488–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Smith, B. D. 1997. The initial domestication of Cucurbita pepo in the Americas 10 000 years ago. Science 276:932–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. —. 1998. The emergence of agriculture. Scientific American Library, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  34. —. 2000. Guilá Naquitz revisited: Agricultural origins in Oaxaca, Mexico. Pages 15–60 in G. Feinman and L. Manzanilla, eds., Cultural evolution, contemporary viewpoints. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York.Google Scholar
  35. —. 2001. Documenting plant domestication: The consilience of biological and archaeological approaches. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 98:1324–1326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wellhausen, E. J., L. M. Robert, and E. Hernández X. 1952. Races of maize in Mexico. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  37. Zeven, A. C, and J. M. J. de Wet. 1982. Dictionary of cultivated plants and their regions of diversity. Centre of Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín
    • 1
  • Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal
    • 1
  1. 1.Centro de Investigación Científica de YucatánMéridaMéxico

Personalised recommendations