for National Geographic News
People in the Americas began growing domesticated crops more than 10,000 years ago, according to a new study.
Ancient squash seeds, peanuts, and cotton balls found in the Peruvian Andes show that farming got started in the New World at about the same time that the first domesticated crops appeared in the Near East.
The new study, led by Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University, describes 10,200-year-old squash seeds found buried in the dirt floor of an ancient hut in Peru's Ñanchoc Valley.
Dillehay and colleagues also found 8,500-year-old peanut shells, the earliest evidence of peanuts as crops in the Americas.
Cotton fibers from the site—dated to about 6,000 years ago—are from about the same time that Egyptians began using cotton, Dillehay said.
The study will appear tomorrow in the journal Science.
The Ñanchoc Valley lies in the lower western slopes of the Andes mountain range in northern Peru (map of Peru).
Dillehay's team dug up the remains of plants and charcoal buried in the floors of ancient huts at several sites in the valley.
The team used radiocarbon dating—calibrated to correspond to calendar years—to determine the ages of these plants and were able to pin down each age to within a few hundred years.
People were growing the plants and hadn't simply harvested them from the wild, the research team says.
The remains were found far outside of their centers of origin, the researchers say, and looked different from known wild species.
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