Many avocational archaeologists are familiar with the evidence that indicates that people in the Southwest began cultivating and eating a variety of corn during the Archaic Period in about 2100 BCE. In contrast, archaeological excavations in Utah have revealed that people had been harvesting, cooking, and eating wild potatoes as early as 8000-9000 BCE.
Archaeologists in Utah successfully tested manos and metates excavated from a certain Paleoindian-Era site for granules of potato starch. They identified these granules as coming from a species of potato that still exists in the US Southwest: Solanum jamesii, the "Four Corners potato." In Utah, this potato plant can still be found - mainly near archaeological sites. But of special interest to those of us here in Grant County, is the directing archaeologist's observation that the "...small, white-flowered S. jamesii plant is found in shady spots around the Southwest, particularly in New Mexico."
[Photo via WNMU, by Russ Kleinman & Richard Felger, Pinos Altos Range, CD trail above the arrastra, Aug. 18, 2008.]
It appears that certain Pueblo tribes, notably the Hopi and Zuni, used these wild potatoes into recent times. The Hopi have explained that the most reliable way to make these potatoes edible was “...to boil the potatoes in a white clay to draw out the toxins..." The article further notes that this particular white clay the Hopi used is "...similar to the one from which the potteries are made.”
Read all the exciting details here, at Western Digs. It appears we avocational archaeologists will have to approach Kleinman and Felger to help us all become paleobotanists as well, the better to identify a plant that is still with us and may have sustained people in the Mimbres-Mogollon region for thousands of years.