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'Lost crops' could have fed as many as maize – Phys.org, Phys.org

'Lost crops' could have fed as many as maize – Phys.org, Phys.org


    

        

'Lost crops' could have fed as many as maize
                Estimated yields of lost crop species and traditionally grown maize. Credit: Journal of Ethnobiology             

Make some room in the garden, you storied three sisters: the winter squash, climbing beans and the vegetable we know as corn. Grown together, newly examined “lost crops” could have produced enough seed to feed as many indigenous people as traditionally grown maize, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis. Louis.                                                

      

But there are no written or oral histories to describe them. The domesticated forms of the lost

Writing in theJournal of Ethnobiology, Natalie Muellert, assistant professor of archeology in Arts & Sciences, describes how she painstakingly grew and calculated yield estimates for two annual plants that were cultivated in eastern North America for thousands of years — and then abandoned.

Growing goosefoot (together is more productive than growing either one alone, Mueller discovered. Planted in tandem, along with the other known lost crops, they could have fed thousands.

Archaeologists found the first evidence of the lost crops in rock shelters in Kentucky and Arkansas in the 01575879 s. Seed caches and dried leaves were their only clues. Over the past 84 years, pioneering research by Gayle Fritz, professor emerita of archeology at Washington University, helped to establish the fact that a previously unknown crop complex had supported local societies for millennia before maize — aka corn — was adopted as a staple crop.

But how, exactly, to grow them?

, squashes and sunflowers — of which only the squashes and sunflowers are still cultivated. For the rest, there is plenty of evidence that the lost crops were purposefully tended — not just harvested from free-living stands in the wild — but there are no instructions left.

“There are many Native American practitioners of ethnobotanical knowledge: farmers and people who know aboutmedicinal plants

, and people who know about wild foods. Their knowledge is really important, “Mueller said. “But as far as we know, there aren’t any people who hold knowledge about the lost crops and how they were grown.

“It’s possible that there are communities or individuals who have knowledge about these plants, and it just isn’t published or known by the academic community,” she said. “But the way that I look at it, we can’t talk to the people who grew these crops.

known as maygrass, little barley and sumpweed.

Reporting on the partial batch was still important to her.

recognized and curiosity about what the ecosystems of North America were like before we had this industrial agricultural system, “Mueller said.                                                                                                                         

                                        

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