Pre-Hispanic Andean societies depended economically on the cultivation of maize (Zea mays), the main staple food crop in the region after its introduction from highland Mexico. Here we report new data from residue analysis of potsherds recovered in archaeological sites in western Tinogasta, Catamarca province, Argentina, ca. 3rd to 16th centuries AD. Molecular and isotopic (d13C values) compositions of fatty acids and microscopically identified maize starch granules from organic residues absorbed in archaeological
potsherds were compared with Andean ingredients and food residues obtained from experimental replica pots, where traditional recipes were cooked. Complex mixtures of lipids and starch remains observed in archaeological cooking pots indicated combinations of Andean ingredients such as llama, beans, algarroba, and maize, and suggest continuity in the domestic foodways through time. The distribution and d13C values of lipids preserved in vessels used for alcoholic beverage preparation, storage and transport in Inka sites suggested the possible consumption of two drinks with distinct patterns: traditional Andean maize beer (chicha) and a local fermented drink made from algarroba flour (aloja).
This is potential evidence for consumption practices in festive contexts sponsored by the Inka state.
Abstract: Archaeological maize specimens from Andean sites of southern South America, dating from 400 to 1400 years before present, were tested for the presence of ancient DNA and three microsatellite loci were typed in the specimens that gave positive results. Genotypes were also obtained for 146 individuals corresponding to modern landraces currently cultivated in the same areas and for 21 plants from Argentinian lowland races. Sequence analysis of cloned ancient DNA products revealed a high incidence of substitutions appearing in only one clone, with transitions prevalent. In the archaeological specimens, there was no evidence of polymorphism at any one of the three microsatellite loci: each exhibited a single allelic variant, identical to the most frequent allele found in contemporary populations belonging to races Amarillo Chico, Amarillo Grande, Blanco and Altiplano. Affiliation between ancient specimens and a set of races from the Andean complex was further supported by assignment tests. The striking genetic uniformity displayed by the ancient specimens and their close relationship with the Andean complex suggest that the latter gene pool has predominated in the western regions of southern South America for at least the past 1400 years. The results support hypotheses suggesting that maize cultivation initially spread into South America via a highland route, rather than through the lowlands.