Sunflower as a Mesoamerican Domesticate

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David Lentz

Professor A&S Biological Sciences
McMicken College of Arts and Sciences
+1 (513) 556-9733

Mexico has long been recognized as one of the world cradles of domestication with evidence for squash (Cucurbita pepo) cultivation appearing as early as 10,000 cal BP. My team and I have gathered archaeological, linguistic, ethnographic, and ethnohistoric data demonstrating that sunflower (Helianthus annuus) entered the repertoire of Mexican domesticates by ca. 4600 cal BP (2600 cal BC), that its cultivation was widespread in central Mexico and possibly extended as far south as El Salvador by the first millennium cal BC, that it was well-known to the Aztecs, and that it is still in use by traditional Mesoamerican cultures today. Morphological evidence indicates that Precolumbian Mexican sunflower populations were distinct from those in cultivation by contemporaneous cultures in the eastern United States. Sunflower’s association with indigenous solar religion and warfare in Mexico may have led to efforts to suppress it after the Spanish Conquest. Further efforts to study the ancient DNA of sunflowers are currently underway.

Project commenced on September 1, 2000

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