The Mayans and corn are not “Mexican”… but “Peruvian”?

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Maize, although its domestication began in the highlands, was completely domesticated in the territories that are currently Peru and Bolivia.

We Mexicans are children of corn … but that may change soon: a new scientific study has provided genetic evidence on the origin of this plant as well as that of the Mayan peoples, who may have originated in South America.

Science magazine published that, according to genetic analyzes carried out in Belize, originally published in the journal Nature, they showed that more than half of the ancestry of the ancient Maya can be traced to immigration that occurred from South America thousands of years ago, specifically, from countries like Peru and Bolivia.

“They could have arrived 5,600 years ago, probably bringing with them new cultivars of the crop (corn) that sustained one of the great cultures of Mesoamerica,” the text indicates.


Corn, most scientific studies agree, had its origin in Mesoamerica, that is, central and southern Mexico, after thousands of years ago the ancient inhabitants of the region domesticated the plant, which. it does not exist by itself in nature.

“These previously unknown immigrants were the first pioneers who essentially planted the seeds of the Mayan civilization, which emerged about 4,000 years ago,” says archaeologist and co-author Jaime Awe, a scholar at Northern Arizona University and originally from Belize.

“Without corn, there would have been no Mayans,” he said.

The Mayan civilization, whose disappearance is still a mystery to science, despite the fact that the main hypotheses show environmental devastation due to the exploitation of resources, inhabited the southeast of Mexico, as well as Central American nations such as Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize.

This research on the origin of the Mayans also yields a novel analysis of how agriculture developed in ancient human civilizations since it adds that there was also a similar case in Europe: agriculture arrived with immigrants from the Middle East.

In the case of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, the research specifies, that the first farmers who introduced corn, chili, and cassava were migrants.

“Agriculture in the Americas spread at least in part with people on the move,” the study stated.

“This document is really groundbreaking,” says Mary Pohl, a Mayan archaeologist at Florida State University. “This is a dramatic reveal and it’s really shaking things up.”

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Corn is not Mexican?

The Nature Communications publication indicates that maize was partially domesticated 9,000 years ago in southwestern Mexico, however, the latest research shows that the plant was completely domesticated approximately 6,500 years ago in places in what is now Peru and Bolivia.

Archaeologist Logan Kistler of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History points out that these crops produced larger and more nutritious cobs than there were 5,300 years ago in Mesoamerica.

“Taken together, the evidence suggests that immigrants brought improved corn plants from the south 5,600 years ago, perhaps with methods for growing corn in small gardens, says Douglas Kennett, a co-author of the research, according to Science. 

For his part, the researcher David Reich explained that the living Mayans of today inherited more than half of their DNA from migrations from the south, while the other half comes from the ancient collectors of the central Altiplano. 

This research sheds new data on the origin of the Mayan civilization and how were the migrations throughout the continent, which influenced the development of Mesoamerican cultures. 

The Yucatan Post