Crops in Pre‐Columbian America

  • Murdo J. Macleod
Reference work entry

Before the European invasion of the Americas, the native peoples harvested a large variety of crops under many types of agricultural and gathering regimes.

Dense concentrations of people had existed for centuries in Mesoamerica and Andean America, and had evolved complex societies of agricultural peasantry and stratified urban elites. These peoples, in fact most Native Americans, had selected and adopted a miracle grass, maize (Zea mays), which reached yields of over one hundred to one in regions of good soils, intensive irrigation, and monoculture such as the chinampas or “floating gardens” of the central valley of Mexico. These high yields led to maize dominance in many diets, and the societies which evolved around this cereal may have resembled those of paddy rice China, which had highly intensified, quasigardening systems, rather than those of Europe or Africa, which had lower yielding but more diversified systems associated with wheat, barley, millet, and sorghum.

Maize was often...

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg New York 2008

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  • Murdo J. Macleod

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