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The Sunflower In Mexico: Further Evidence For A N. American Domestication

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Bianca
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« on: July 20, 2009, 08:50:41 am »

Avenging Angel
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    Re: The sunflower in Mexico: further evidence for a North American domestication
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2008, 01:14:13 am » Quote 

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Bison were an important dispersal agent for the sunflower, not only did they carry achenes in their fur but they could also create the disturbance of the soil necessary for the sunflower’s success (Asch 1993). Bison were probably most effective in dispersal in their primary range which extended from Texas and New Mexico into Canada (McDonald 1981; map p. 104) where the great population densities would create more extensive disturbances. In their secondary area of distribution, which included northern Mexico to the tropic of Cancer and nearly all of eastern North America, bison apparently had little or no effect in the spread of sunflowers. There is, of course, the possibility that they introduced them to northern Mexico. The recent spread of sunflowers there has been along roads according to my observations.

Other than the problematic San Andrés specimens, sunflower has been identified tentatively in only two other archaeological contexts in Mexico. There is a single isolated report of sunflower in the archaeological record of northern Mexico, and this identification needs to be confirmed. If the Ocampo Caves (Tamaulipas) specimen excavated by McNeish and identified by Callen (1969) as wild sunflower can be located, its taxonomic assignment should be verified, as various species of Tithonia and Viguiera, close relatives of Helianthus, are sometimes mistaken for sunflower. The former are often called mirasol or girasol in Mexico, as is Helianthus. I have not been able to locate the specimens in any of the places where MacNeish-Callen material is known to be stored.

In support of their hypothesis that “the sunflower had a long history of cultivation in middle America” Lentz et al. (2001, p. 372) mention a domesticated sunflower achene from the Santa Leticia site in El Salvador (Miksicek 1986). Although Miksicek mentions both sunflower achene and sunflower seeds in his report, from the context I believe that only one carbonized achene which measured 3.9 × 2.4 mm (p. 41) was found. He states that it falls into the size range for ruderal sunflowers, or lower limit of archaic cultivated sunflower, but that is has “the thick, sculptured pericarp” more characteristic of cultivated varieties. Nowhere does the author definitely state that this is a domesticated sunflower. In fact, in his final sentence on sunflower (p. 199) he says, “a single achene is too small a sample for any but the most tentative conclusions.” Miksicek’s admittedly tentative identification of the specimen from El Salvador as sunflower should be viewed with considerable skepticism until it is relocated, described, and a clear morphological basis for its taxonomic status established. I think this achene should be examined by a sunflower specialist for two reasons: (1) its extreme geographical position and (2) the “sculptured” pericarp–for in so far as I know the pericarps of wild and cultivated sunflower do not differ except in size and color.

In summary, there is no convincing evidence for the sunflower in the archaeological record of Mexico, and the historical record provides no support for the domestication or pre-Columbian presence of the sunflower anywhere south of northern Mexico. The wide use of common names for sunflowers in Spanish, or with Spanish words in them, (girasol, mirasol, maíz de teja and maíz de tejas) suggests that sunflowers were a post-contact arrival.

It is of course possible that sunflowers, either wild or domesticated, were part of the diet in pre-Columbian Mexico at some point, and then went extinct prior to European contact. But any claims for the independent domestication of sunflower in Mexico, or its use as a food crop, should be based on strong supporting arguments and clear genetic or morphological evidence.

Acknowledgements  G. Anderson, M. Crouch, P. Davila, G. Fritz, A. Ocampo, L. Rieseberg, M. Schell, and B. Smith.


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References



Asch DL (1993) Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.): the pathway to its domestication. Paper delivered at 58th annual meeting, Society for American Archaeology, St. Louis, 17 May 1993 
 
Bukasov SM (1930) The cultivated plants of Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia. Bull Appl Bot Genet Plant Breed 47:470–553 
 
Callen EO (1969) Diet as revealed by coprolites. In: Brothwell D, Higgs E (eds) Science in Archaeology, Basic Books, NY, pp 186–194 
 
Dressler RL (1953) The pre-Colombian cultivated plants of Mexico. Bot Mus Leaf Harv Univ 16:115–172 
 
Harter AV, Gardner E, Falush D, Lentz D, Bye R, Rieseberg L (2004) Origin of extant domesticated sunflowers in eastern North America. Nature 430:201–205
   
 
Heiser C (1945) The Hopi sunflower. Missouri Botanical Garden Bull 33:163–166 
 
Heiser C (1951) The sunflower among the North American Indians. Proc Am Philos Soc 95:432–448 
 
Heiser C (1973) Variation in the bottle gourd. In: Meggers BJ, Aynesu ES, Duckworth WD (eds) Tropical forest ecosystems in Africa and South America: a comparative review. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington 
 
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McDonald JN (1981) North American bison: their classification and evolution. University California Press, Berkeley 
 
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Martínez M (1979) Catálogo de nombres vulgares y científicos de plantas mexicanas. Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico 
 
Miksicek CH (1986) Paleobotanical identifications. Appendix 2. In: Demarest AA (ed) The archaelogy of Santa Leticia and the rise of Maya civilization. Middle American Research Institute, Publication 52, Tulane University, Publication, New Orleans 
 
Patiño VM (1964) Plantas cultivadas y animales domesticos on America Equinocial. Tomo II. Plantas Alimenticias. Imprenta Departamental, Cali 
 
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Piperno DR (2001) On maize and the sunflower. Science 292:2260–2261
   
 
Ramírez Celastino C (1991) Plantas de la regíon Nahuatl del centro de Guerrero. Centro de Investigaciones y Estudias Superiores en Antropología Social, México 
 
Smith BR (2006) Eastern North America as an independent center of plant domestication. Proc Nat Acad Sci 103:12223–12228
   
 
True RH (1912) Seeds and plants imported. Inventory no. 26. Entry no. 29984. US Dep Agric Bull 233, Washington, DC 
 

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Footnotes



1 Carbonized archaeological sunflower achene from San Andrés, Mexico: not available. Various difficulties prevented securing the photograph and permission to use it. In addition to the original source (Lentz et al. 2001) it may be seen in Smith (2006) as well as on http://www.pnas.org.cgi/content/full/103/33/12223. The achene as shown in the photo is 8.2 mm long. Originally it was slightly longer; the tip was broken off while it was at Indiana University. 



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