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Hardwood Ash Nixtamalization May Lead to False Negatives for the Presence of Maize by Depleting Bulk delta13C in Carbonized Residues

TitleHardwood Ash Nixtamalization May Lead to False Negatives for the Presence of Maize by Depleting Bulk delta13C in Carbonized Residues
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsLovis, WA, Urquhart, GR, Raviele, ME, Hart, JP
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Volume38
Pagination2726-2730
KeywordsAlkali processing, Bulk δ13C, Hominy, Maize histories, Pottery residue, Prehistoric cooking techniques
Abstract

Among the multiple proxies for detecting maize in precontact economies is the use of δ13C analysis of carbonized residues from ceramic cooking vessels. Although maize horticulture was widely established in Eastern North America (ENA) by A.D. 1000, there are carbonized residues from ceramic assemblages after this date that lack the elevated δ13C values indicative of the presence of maize. This may be due to the true absence of maize, or other factors including the masking of maize. Prior experimental research by Hart et al. demonstrated that the addition of C3 plants or consumers to two part mixes with maize can mask maize presence even when maize is the dominant ingredient. Here we investigate the effect of alkali processing of maize (nixtamalization) on δ13C using the widespread ENA process of boiling maize kernels with wood ash, a C3 product, to create hominy. Our experiments test whether or not the process of hardwood ash nixtamalization can mask the presence of maize in adhering carbonized residues by depleting δ13C values, and whether there is a reciprocal δ13C enrichment effect on the hardwood ash employed in nixtamalization. Overall, there is substantial δ13C depletion of residues when maize is cooked with hardwood ash, and hardwood ash cooked with maize shows the reciprocal enrichment. Therefore, the depleted values after the adoption of maize may be false negatives due to the nixtamalization process.

URLhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2011.06.010
DOI10.1016/j.jas.2011.06.010