Our May 2020 GCAS newsletter included a report submitted by one of our friends in the archaeological community, Dave Greenwald, President of the Jornada Research Institute in Tularosa, New Mexico. For those who may have missed it, we re-post it here as a PDF:
Some time ago there was a post on this here website discussing the consumption of wild potatoes in the US Southwest by native populations as early as 8000-9000 BCE. It appears similar activity was occurring far to the south, in Andean cultures. Emergence Magazine provides us a "Potato Travelogue" of Peru. The investigative authors describe that:
Approximately 8,000 years ago, the first wild potatoes were harvested from the high-altitude soils surrounding Lake Titicaca at the foot of the Andes Mountains. Since then, more than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes—known in Peru as papas nativas—have been cultivated in the Andean highlands. On a month-long journey through Peru, we encounter the diverse flavors, cultural significance, agricultural challenges, history, and daily uses of papas nativas.
The GCAS proudly donated funds to the Southwest New Mexico Audubon Society in partnership with the Mimbres Region Arts Council Youth Mural Program, to support their latest civic educational and beautification project. The mural was dedicated to the public on October 26, 2019. As the Southwest New Mexico Audubon Society describes,
The mural theme, “Plants, Pollinators and Climate Change,” was proposed by SWNM Audubon and designed by Aldo Leopold High School art students, under the direction of teacher Alison Phillips, with input from supporting organizations and based on original photographs by Elroy Limmer. Mimbreño designs bridge past with present, the border consists of blue to red stripes depicting global temperature changes over the last 100 years.
The GCAS prefers to restrict our blog posts to the US Southwest/Northwestern Mexico region on this here website, but we always make an exception for advances in DNA technology. From a Washington Post article dated March 15, 2019:
"One day about 200 years ago, a woman enslaved on a tobacco plantation near Annapolis tossed aside the broken stem of the clay pipe she was smoking in the slave quarters where she lived....the stem bore marks where she had clenched it in her teeth as she worked. But the stem bore something else she could never have imagined: her DNA.
Researchers at Penn State reported a few months ago that they have isolated a 1000-year-old plant virus - a chrysovirus - from corncobs recovered from the Antelope House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona. This chrysovirus is not just the first chrysovirus found in corn, but it is the oldest plant virus scientists have found to date. [Antelope House image via americansouthwest.net; virus image via alchetron.com]
Researchers have discovered that a certain protein in tooth enamel comes from a sex-specific gene. Scientists at the University of California/Davis have taken that discovery and developed a technique by which they can determine the gender of human remains even if only a single tooth is all that is recovered. Details are in this recent article in Archaeology magazine.
This final post in our DNA trilogy concerns how the genetic analysis of non-human remains enhances the archaeologist's understanding of the past human culture they are investigating. And sometimes opens more and unexpected avenues of research to pursue.
Archaeologists have studied the remains of 14 scarlet macaws recently unearthed from five different New Mexico sites including Chaco Canyon and the Mimbres region. Macaws' feathers were highly valued not just by the macaws themselves, but by Ancestral Puebloans and other cultures throughout the US Southwest.
The burials were found in Room 33, aka the Gambler's House, of Pubelo Bonito in Chaco Canyon. [Figure on right via Stephen Plog and Carrie Heitman, Hierarchy and Social Inequality in the American Southwest, A.D. 800-1200.]
From the Western Digs article: "They were interred in what’s been described as “the richest burial known in the Southwest” — 14 men and women buried over the course of 330 years in the same crypt, some accompanied by pieces of pottery and pendants, others lavished with thousands of turquoise and shell beads....And new analysis of DNA from the 14 sets of remains shows that these elites weren’t merely members of the same influential class — indeed, they were all members of the same extended family, a “dynasty” that traced its ancestry to a single woman...."
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Ordinarily this GCAS blog emphasizes topics that are directly related to our particular geographic area. However, this article via The Atlantic, about recent anthropological discoveries in the Denisova cave in Siberia, is relevant to us because it illustrates how DNA technology is impelling scientists to change their assumptions about how archaic and modern humans migrated, and how they interacted with the groups they encountered.
[Above photo: Excavation works in the East Chamber of Denisova Cave, Russia; by Bence Viola, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology]