Form of ancient grain is native to Eastern North America
Quinoa seeds found in Brantford, Ont. date back to 900 B.C.
The quinoa “pit” comes a long time before corn from 500 A.D., which previously was the oldest crop found in the province.
The 3,000-year-old quinoa seeds have been identified as ancient, domesticated goosefoot (C. berlandieri spp. jonesianum), a variety of an ancient grain native to eastern North America.
Roughly 140,000 charred seeds were discovered during the clearing of a home construction site in Tutela Heights, now a housing development, in Brantford in 2010. The site underwent an archeological assessment, carried out by Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI), prior to site development.
The discovered seeds date back to 900 B.C. Prior to their discovery, the quinoa variety has never been located north of Kentucky at this point in history, professor Gary Crawford of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), said in a Monday University of Toronto release
Crawford was “brought in by (ASI), the archaeological consulting firm that excavated the site,” the release indicated.
The unique discovery is rare, Crawford said.
“Finding domesticated seeds that are so old in Ontario is special,” he explained.
“The next time we find a crop in the province is about 500 A.D., and it’s corn.
“All previous research on this species of quinoa, which is now extinct, has taken place in the central United States: Arkansas, Illinois and Kentucky.”
Jessica Lytle, co-author of the subsequent research paper and one of the assessors who performed the initial seed analysis, brought the seeds to Crawford for additional study.
The discovery of the ancient grain presents a variety of questions, Ron Williamson from ASI, and an additional co-author, said in the release.
“We had to consider whether the seeds were only traded here or grown locally,” he said.
“We also had to consider whether this was the beginning of agriculture in the province.
“It appears not, because we don’t see any evidence of local cultivation.
“If it were grown in the region, we would have expected to see seeds of the crop in other pits around the site, but they were confined to this specific pit.
“We also don’t see any sign of agricultural weeds or stone tools that may have been used for cultivation.”
While indigenous people swapped varieties of minerals and finished stone objects over long distances in the past, this is the first evidence of a crop being a component of the exchange system. The significance of the discovered quinoa variety to local indigenous people 3,000 years ago remains unclear.
Crawford plans to review other seeds in his lab he has collected from different Ontario sites to determine if there are other charred seeds that may be variations of this subspecies.
The researchers speculate that the discovered seeds were charred accidentally by local inhabitants attempting to parch them.
“All of these bits of data demonstrate that the Indigenous Canadians were knowledgeable, sophisticated and well-connected across Eastern North America,” Crawford added.
The researcher’s findings are published in the December 2018 issue
of American Antiquity.
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