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archaeology

Rice domesticated in the Amazon 4,000 years ago

JEE & RANI NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS The crop was cultivated by prehistoric inhabitants in RondôniaJEE & RANI NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Archaeologists from Brazil and England have found evidence of the domestication of rice by indigenous populations in southwest Amazonia roughly 4,000 years ago (Nature Ecology and Evolution, October 9). According to the study, prehistoric farmers in the region knew how to manipulate wild rice to make the plant produce larger grains and more abundant crops. This knowledge, however, may have been lost after the arrival of European colonizers in the late fifteenth century, which led to the near complete extermination of the native population. The research team, led by José Iriarte from the University of Exeter, UK, and Eduardo Góes Neves from the University of São Paulo’s Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (MAE-USP), analyzed 16 samples of microscopic rice residue found in Monte Castelo, Rondônia. Excavations at the archeological site conducted by Brazilian scientists examined 10 periods of occupation in the region. There were more traces of rice at the most recent layers associated with human presence, indicating that the plant began to play a greater role in the local diet and as a crop around 4,000 years ago. The authors of the study claim that the Monte Castelo site is the first evidence to date of the domestication of rice in the Americas.

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