HUMANPAST.NET

Food                  1,000 AD
Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

Africa

 

Southwest Asia

 

Egypt

 

Indus Valley

 

China

 

Europe

 There is no evidence to support the claim that either Columbus or any other European was the first to introduce maize into the Old World. Bonafous (1836) is the first person that I know of to claim that the Arabs or Saracens introduced maize into Spain: '...and maize was said by Santa Rosa da Viterbo to have been brought by the Arabs into Spain in the thirteenth century.' (135)

South America

 Tiwanaku is one of the first and largest "states" to be based in large part on potatoes, which were intensively cultivated with other crops on raised fields reclaimed from the lake marshes. The people of Tiwanaku also herded vast numbers of llamas…(52)

The economic basis of the Inka Empire was a highly integrated system of fishing, herding, and farming. Rivers were channeled through stone-lined canals, while lowland irrigation systems, which had existed for thousands of years, were extended and brought under centralized authority. Llamas and alpacas were raised for wool, while dogs, muscovy ducks, and guinea pigs provided most of the meat. But the staple foods were maize, beans, potatoes, quinoa, oca, and peppers. (52)

The food storage methods used by the Inka were very important in establishing imperial reserves. Potatoes were alternately dried and frozen to produce a black, pulpy product called chuno, meat was turned into jerky, and grain was brewed into chica, a nutritious beer. The Inka and their immediate predecessors converted maize into beer as a prestige item and associated it with imperial power and the theology of the Inka state. People were brought together in communal feasts in which beer was consumed, and at these feasts the elites could reinforce their position: by providing beer in this context they could underscore the indebtedness of the peasantry to them and put the labor that the peasantry did for the elites in the context of the national religion and the highly stratified class system. (52)

While giving rise to class divisions for the first time, farming may also have exacerbated sexual inequality already in existence. With the advent of agriculture, women often became beasts of burden, were drained by more frequent pregnancies, and thus suffered poorer health. For example, among the Chilean mummies from 1000 AD, women exceeded men in osteoarthritis and in bone lesions from infectious disease. (114)

Mesoamerica

 It is estimated that between one and two million people lived in the Valley of Mexico in late Aztec times. The lake provided great and reliable quantities of food in the form of fish, waterfowl, and salamanders. In the southern areas of the valley's lake system, maize, beans, squash, tomatoes, and other crops were grown on chinampas, long rectangular plots of ground created out of the lake bed by piling up layers of aquatic weeds, mud, human feces, garbage, and other materials. According to ancient documents, the Aztecs initially made the chinampas by braiding grass and reeds into thick mats that could float, and thus they were able to float entire fields from one place to another--an agricultural system unparalleled in the ancient world. As many as four crops per year can be grown on these exceptionally fertile plots of land. (51)

The diet of the Aztecs centered on maize, beans, squash, and tomatoes, although the wealthier people could eat various fruits, nuts, meats, and other exotic foods. The relatively unvaried diet was enlivened with peyote and other natural hallucinogens, and by tobacco and pulque, a cactus-derived alcoholic drink with impressive powers to revive the weary. (5)

Around the year 590 AD, at the site they call Ceren in present-day El Salvador, a volcano erupted that provided remains of a village so well preserved that it has been stamped with the inevitable sobriquet of Central American Pompeii. At Ceren, specialists in the uses of plants by early people have uncovered stores of ceramic vessels filled with beans, squash, cacao and other plant foods dried but still recognizable after all these centuries. …the abundance of finely painted ceramics and the evidence of trade goods showed this to be a prosperous community of farmers. In one of the more humble households, archaeologists counted more than 70 ceramic vessels. "It's surprising, but also sad," Dr. Sheets said in an interview. "The standard of living fourteen hundred years ago was higher than it is now among the peasants of El Salvador." Ceren had developed a diverse agriculture of orchards, household gardens and large cornfields. At least at this time of year, they had a variety of foods to eat: corn, several kinds of beans, squash, chili peppers, avocados, nuts, cherries and other fruits. They drink cacao, the favorite beverage of the Maya. They got their animal proteins from deer, ducks, dogs and freshwater mollusks. (101)

In Aztec times, the beans of the cacao were used as a medium of exchange and ground to produce the sacred drink, chocolatl. (159)

 

 

North America

 …maize was a late introduction and only became an important source of food over most of eastern North America after about AD 1000. (53)

Maize…could be farmed productively with just 120 frost-free days. And so adaptable is the plant that it was a staple as far north as Ontario, Canada, by the time the Europeans arrived in the sixteenth century. Maize contains relatively high amounts of 13C, so people who eat maize also have high concentrations of this isotope. Several studies have shown that in Missouri, Arkansas, and other areas, skeletons of people who lived before about AD 1000 tend to have little 13C, but beginning at about AD 900 to AD 1000, this isotope is found in radically higher concentrations. (53)

Without plows or an advanced technology, the Native Americans in many areas relied on a form of swidden cultivation in which they burned off the vegetation on rich, well-drained alluvial plains, then planted maize and a few other crops, invested some effort in weeding and cultivation during the growing season, and then harvested and stored as much maize as they could.

The Mississippians were more gardeners than farmers compared to, for example, the wheat farmers of Southwest Asia. There is little evidence that Mississippian peoples ever did much in the way of flood control or irrigation, but they certainly used hoes and intensive weeding to boost crop yields. (53)

To the northeast, the Iroquois peoples adapted maize-beans-squash farming to the colder uplands of New York State, New England, and southeastern Canada. Their shifting pattern of swidden agriculture seems to have created land shortages and recurrent warfare, forcing people to live in well-fortified villages. (53)

…many atlatl dart points and arrowheads have been found at each Hoohokam site, and botanical remains indicate that almost every community supplemented its diet with wild mustard, amaranths, chenopods, cactus fruits, mesquite, screwbeans, and other wild products. (53)

Defensive considerations, greater exploitation of more productive strains of maize, and climatic changes beginning about AD 700 may have spurred the Anasazi into constructing the "cliff cities" for which they are famous. On Chapin Mesa…in the Mesa Verde area, the older agricultural fields were extended by an elaborate checkdam system that added eight or twelve hectares of cultivable land. (53)

Another example of paleopathologists at work is the study of thousands of American Indian skeletons excavated from burial mounds in the Illinois and Ohio river valleys. Corn, first domesticated in Central America thousands of years ago, became the basis of intensive farming in those valleys around 1000 AD. Until then, Indian hunter-gatherers had skeletons "so healthy it is somewhat discouraging to work with them," as one paleopathologist complained. With the arrival of corn, Indian skeletons suddenly became interesting to study. The number of cavities in an average adult's mouth jumped from fewer than one to nearly seven, and tooth loss and abscesses became rampant. Enamel defects in children's milk teeth imply that pregnant and nursing mothers were severely undernourished. Anemia quadrupled in frequency; tuberculosis became established as an epidemic disease; half the population suffered from yaws or syphilis; and two-thirds suffered from osteoarthritis and other degenerative diseases. Mortality rates at every age increased, with the result that only 1 percent of the population survived past age fifty, as compared to 5 percent in the golden days before corn. Almost one fifth of the whole population died between the ages of one and four, probably because weaned toddlers succumbed to malnutrition and infectious diseases. Thus corn, usually considered among the New World's blessings, actually proved to be a public-health disaster. Similar conclusions about the transition from hunting to farming emerge from studies of skeletons elsewhere in the world. (114)

Other

 An immediate result of this self-inflicted ecological disaster was that the islanders no longer had the logs needed to transport and erect statues, so carving ceased. But deforestation also had two indirect consequences that brought starvation: soil erosion, hence lower crop yields, plus lack of timber to build canoes, hence less protein available from fishing. As a result, the population was now greater than Easter could support, and island society collapsed in a holocaust of internecine warfare and cannibalism. A warrior class took over; spear points manufactured in huge quantities came to litter the landscape; the defeated were eaten or enslaved; rival clans pulled down each other's statues; and people took to living in caves for self-protection. What had once been a lush island supporting one of the world's most remarkable civilizations deteriorated into the Easter Island of today: a barren grassland littered with fallen statues, and supporting less than one-third of its former population. (114)