Early isotopic evidence for maize as a staple grain in the Americas

Douglas J. Kennett, Keith M. Prufer, Keith M. Prufer, Brendan J. Culleton, Richard J. George, Mark Robinson, Willa R. Trask, Gina M. Buckley, Emily Moes, Emily J. Kate, Thomas K. Harper, Lexi O'Donnell, Erin E. Ray, Ethan C. Hill, Asia Alsgaard, Christopher Merriman, Clayton Meredith, Heather J.H. Edgar, Jaime J. Awe, Said M. Gutierrez

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68 Scopus citations


Maize is a cultigen of global economic importance, but when it first became a staple grain in the Americas, was unknown and contested. Here, we report direct isotopic dietary evidence from 52 radiocarbon-dated human skeletons from two remarkably well-preserved rock-shelter contexts in the Maya Mountains of Belize spanning the past 10,000 years. Individuals dating before ∼4700 calendar years before present (cal B.P.) show no clear evidence for the consumption of maize. Evidence for substantial maize consumption (∼30% of total diet) appears in some individuals between 4700 and 4000 cal B.P. Isotopic evidence after 4000 cal B.P. indicates that maize became a persistently used staple grain comparable in dietary significance to later maize agriculturalists in the region (>70% of total diet). These data provide the earliest definitive evidence for maize as a staple grain in the Americas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberEABA3245
JournalScience Advances
Issue number23
StatePublished - Jun 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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