Pre-Columbian Food System in West Mesoamerica

  • Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal
  • Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín
  • Alondra Flores-Silva
Part of the Ethnobiology book series (EBL)


The west of the biogeographic region Balsas-Jalisco is considered a center of agricultural origin and plant domestication in the New World; in this region, a complex agro-alimentary system could have generated as far back as the Archaic Period (10000–4400 BP). To date, we ignore the structure and evolution of the system found there by the Europeans in 1522; however, this knowledge is fundamental to understand the high cultural development of the area and to measure the changes produced by the conquest and the subsequent cultural subjugation. We compiled the dishes that could have been elaborated during the Post-Classic Period (900–1521 CE), incorporating archaeological, ethnographic, and ethnobotanical information. The results indicate that the food system in 1522 could have been structured with close to a hundred dishes elaborated with at least 75 wild plants, 19 domesticated or cultivated natives, 12 domesticated ones introduced from other regions, and 6 wild edible mushrooms. Some of these dishes included meat, obtained from at least 19 wild animals and 4 domesticated ones. Spirits possibly were among the major dishes of this time. The nucleus of the system was made up by the same species listed since the Archaic Period, produced in the milpa agro-ecosystem. The changes recorded in the food system and the diet, induced by the conquest and heightened in the last 60 years, could partly explain the high levels of decalcification, cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity among the human population native to the study area.


Domestication Milpa agro-ecosystem Pre-Columbian food system West Mesoamerica 



Thanks to the Biology Institute at UNAM and its Botanical Garden; especially to Dr. Javier Caballero Nieto, for the support he gave to the first author during his research stay. To Jeronimo Zizumbo Colunga, for translation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal
    • 1
    • 2
  • Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín
    • 1
    • 2
  • Alondra Flores-Silva
    • 3
  1. 1.Dpto. Agricultura, Sociedad y Ambiente. El Colegio de la Frontera SurChiapasMéxico
  2. 2.Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán.MéridaMéxico
  3. 3.Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán. MéridaMeridaMéxico

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