The evaluation of the labor costs of stone boiling dried maize during the early agricultural period in the Southwest

Date

2016

Authors

Thomas, Andrea M.

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Abstract

The Early Agricultural period (2100 B.C.-A.D.150-500) in the Southwest is marked by the earliest presence of maize and ends with the advent of ceramic vessel use. During this time period inhabitants began transitioning to maize agriculture, and the cultivar became a key resource in their subsistence strategy. Many archaeologists assume maize was dried and stored for future consumption. Once dried, maize required extensive processing to make it edible. Cooking transforms the polysaccharides in to a digestible disaccharide or monosaccharide, through techniques such as: parching, steeping, and/or boiling, while grinding reduces the particle size (Hard et al. 1996). Yet, little is known about the methods of dried maize processing during the Early Agricultural period and how they compare with ethnographically known methods. The addition of slaked lime to cook dried maize in boiling water, or nixtamalization, boosts digestibility and enhances nutritional qualities of maize (Katz et al. 1974). This ethnographically known process is associated with direct fire boiling in ceramic vessels. Would nixtamalization be possible without ceramic vessels? Some Southwest archaeologists postulate nixtamalization could be achieved with an indirect firing technique termed "stone boiling" (Ellwood et al. 2013). The purpose of this study was to understand this Early Agricultural period cooking technique by addressing the following questions. What are the labor costs of stone boiling dried maize and would this technique be a viable approach? I performed seven stone boiling experiments, in which I processed 400 g of dried Chapalote Pop maize to evaluate the labor costs of stone boiling. The results suggest that the labor costs of stone boiling dried maize would be too high to be a preferred processing technique by early maize agriculturalists.

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Keywords

dried maize processing, Early Agricultural Period, stone boiling

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Department

Anthropology