Phytolith Evidence for Early Maize (Zea mays) in the Northern Finger Lakes Region of New York

TitlePhytolith Evidence for Early Maize (Zea mays) in the Northern Finger Lakes Region of New York
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsHart, JP, Thompson, RG, Brumbach, HJ
JournalAmerican Antiquity
KeywordsAgriculture, America, Analysis, Archaeological site, C 13, Ceramics, Dating, Die, Economy, Flora, Isotope Analysis, Laboratory, maize, Mass spectrometry, New York, Palaeobotany, Phytolith, Sample, United States of America, Woodland

The timing of crop introductions, particularly of maize (Zea mays), has been of long-standing interest to archaeologists working in various regions of eastern North America. The earliest confirmed macrobotanical evidence for maize in New York is A.D. 1000. We report on the results of accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) dating. phytolith analysis, and stable carbon isotope analysis of carbonized cooking residues adhering to the interior surface of pottery sherds from three sites in the northern Finger Lakes region of New York. Maize, squash (Cucurbita sp.) wild rice (Zizania aquatica), and sedge (Cyperus sp.) were identified in phytolith assemblages dating to as early as the first half of the calibrated seventh century A.D. The results demonstrate that low δ13C values on cooking residues cannot be used to preclude the possibility that maize was cooked in vessels. Two of the maize-bean-squash crop triad were present in New York at least 350 years earlier than previously documented, and the Northern Flint Corn Complex was present in New York by at least the first half of the seventh century A.D. This research highlights the potential of cooking residues to provide new insights on prehistoric plant-based subsistence.