Smithsonian researchers and colleagues report that across the Americas, chili peppers (Capsicum species) were cultivated and traded as early as 6,000 years ago–predating the invention of pottery in some areas of the Americas.
The researchers analyzed starch grains to trace the history of chili peppers in the Americas.
Their findings contribute significantly to the current understanding of ancient agricultural practices in the Americas.
The report is published in the Feb. 16 issue of the journal Science.
When Europeans arrived in the Americas, chili peppers were among the most widespread of the plants domesticated in the New World.
However, the chronology and precise geography of their origins and early dispersals had been very poorly understood.
Tropical environments, where many chili varieties were first domesticated and then incorporated into prehistoric farming systems, degrade most organic archaeological remains, washing away and decomposing all but the most durable evidence of ancient human activities.
Lead author Linda Perry, of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and colleagues overcame this obstacle by identifying chili pepper starch grains.
The starch microfossils were found at seven sites dating from 6,000 years ago to European contact and ranging from the Bahamas to southern Peru. …
The oldest Capsicum starch grains were found in southwestern Ecuador at two sites dating to 6,100 years ago.
The chili remains were associated with previously identified corn, achira, arrowroot, leren, yuca, squash, beans and palm fruit, adding to the picture of an early, complex agricultural system in that region.
Ecuador is not considered to be the center of domestication for any of the five domesticated chili species.
A more ancient record of the domestication and spread of chili peppers awaits investigators working in other regions where wild chilies were first brought into cultivation.
In Panama, chilies occurred with corn and domesticated yams that dated 5,600 years before present (ybp).
See also here.
The Dutch name for Capsicum is Spaanse peper, literally “Spanish pepper”, because Spaniards brought it to Europe.
Ancient Peruvian (pre)history: here.