Farming in Mesoamerica

The archaic period of Mesoamerican chronology, which lasted from 8000 to 2000 BC, is when agriculture first appeared in the region. The earliest hunters lived a nomadic lifestyle and depended on hunting and gathering to provide for their daily needs between 50,000 and 10,000 BC. The nomadic lifestyle that ruled the late Pleistocene and early Archaic periods gradually gave way to more stationary lifestyles as the local microbands of hunters and gatherers learned to domesticate wild plants. The growing of these plants gave the Mesoamericans security and enabled them to boost food production close to seasonal camps. (Piperno 641). The cultivation of plants became increasingly important to the Mesoamericans as the archaic period progressed. The hunting and gathering micro bands were allowed to establish enduring settlements and to increase in size by the reliability of cultivated plants. A greater amount of food was required by these larger settlements which led to an even better reliance on domestic crops. The Mesoamericans fixed a sedentary lifestyle which was based on plant cultivation and domestication. Maize was the most important plant in Mesoamerica (Evans 28). The following is an examination of the process of plants domestication, some of the plants and their significance.

Domesticated Plants and their Significance

When he found the maize cobs, Richard S. MacNeish completed an extensive survey of the archaeology of Mesoamerica. It was determined out that the dates were 3500 BC after the radiocarbon was found out whereby it was suspected initially that these cobs date back to 5000BC in circa. In Guila Naquitz in Oaxaca, the earliest maize cob was discovered, dates back to 4300 BC. Teosinte was the ancestor of maize whereby the corn arrived through the catastrophic sexual transmutation. In Mesoamerica, it became the most important crop. Maize became critical to the survival of the Mesoamerican people which is reflected in their origin artworks, rituals, and myths, the carvings on altars, stone figurines which depicted the Maize God and further signified the importance of maize to the people of Mesoamerican people (Arroyo de Anda and Maldonado-Koerdell 334).

Squash is another important crop in Mesoamerican agriculture. Bruce D Smith discovered that the evidence of domesticated squash, in Guila Naquitz caves in Oaxaca. Today’s pumpkin which is related to the beginning of the archaic period finds date back to 8000 BC. The bottle gourd which was domesticated by in the early Archaic time was another essential squash. Bottle gourd provided the space for collecting seeds for planting or grinding as well as the means of carrying water. There was a great source of protein to the ancient Mesoamericans as well as to people today (Andrews and Hammond 580).

Beans are another significant source of food in Mesoamerican. There were three Sisters who were referred to as squash from a triad of products. The retaining of nutrients in the soil is helped by growing these crops together.

Cotton and rubber trees were used for making culturally significant products such as rubber balls for games in Mesoamerican respectively. The performance of the ball games is related to many origin myths of the Mesoamerican people whereby the evidence of these games is found out throughout Mesoamerican. The game was frequently accompanied with human sacrifice and had a ritualistic significance. The people of Mesoamerican fascination together with the culture value and the adornment placed on their appearance.

Cacao which was also called ancient Mesoamerican chocolate was another critical plant. It was used as currency in trade and even in rituals. The above crops are only a few of the essential domesticated plants to the ancient Mesoamerican people. The following is a comprehensive list of the prehistoric domesticated plants of Mesoamerica (Piperno 637).

1. Avocado-green, with a single seed of egg-shaped berry

2. Chicle – its sap a made into chewing gum

3. Cotton- It’s a shrub that is used to create textiles mainly.

4. Copal- it's an incensed which is used for religious practices by Maya.

5. Guayaba- it’s a guava fruit.

6. Chill peppers- it has many varieties.

7. Chaya-it’s the fast-growing leafy which have similar familiar uses with spinach.

8. Cassava—Manioc, it is used to make tapioca which is an edible starch.

9. Copal- it is intensely used for religious practices by the Maya.

10. Pineapple- It’s extensively cultivated.

11. Sunflower seeds- It’s a source of essential oils, under the cultivation in Peru and Mexico for thousands of years.

12. Tunas- The prickly pear, fruits of Opuntia species.

Plant Domestication

Plant domestication is one of the crucial steps in development of reliable agriculture during the Neolithic economy. It was meant to feed the society using different plants. The plant growers had to learn how to control the growing seasons and improve the harvests over time. The earliest experiment with taking care of plants is known as horticulture, which is dated back in the Mesolithic periods or upper Paleolithic of over 20, 000 years ago. The domesticated plants are the ones which were wild and native characteristics and could reproduce without the intervention of human beings. When domestication began, people had to intervene in the reproduction of plants. A relationship between human beings and plants has been developed. The process is known as co-evolution since the behaviors of both plants and people evolved so that they could suit each other. The harvests are made in a way that they are selected depending on the characteristics which are most preferable. Activities such as cross- breeding are encouraged to help come up with improved breeds.

Factors Affecting Agriculture in the Region

The process of colonizing Mesoamerica was strategized in a way that the people were weakened beyond rebellion and could not even depend on the agricultural activities. After being weak, Spain required only a small number of soldiers who would finish the task of taking over the region. Spain began by bringing in their people such as a doctor, carpenters, some women, and slaves thus creating a settlement founded in the nation. These people would help in convincing the local population to give up easily as it would be of benefit to them. Later on, the Spanish took the leaders of the nation who were in charge of making all rules thus weakening the Mesoamerica people (Piperno, 640).

Spain was a developed nation technologically. They were able to manufacture sophisticated weapons such as guns, gunpowder, and bombs which could wipe an entire rebelling group. The Mesoamerica, on the other hand, had no technological know-how and their weapons could not be matched with those of the Spanish troops. Wiping out these people did not require using a large army as a small one would do as long as they had all the required weapons to fight these individuals. The weapons which these people were using were designed to kill and not enslave, and it created fear among the local people thus forcing them to surrender before they were wiped out. The agricultural tools that the Mesoamerica people had were weak and could not conduct their work effectively.

According to the modernization and dependency theory, Spain was a resourceful nation economically and politically. They had a strong leadership system where the leaders would come up with ideas that would be used to take over the country without any hitches. They have economic resources required to move in another nation and settle there without any problems, and the resources were an advantage over Mesoamerica. They introduced some of their farming methods to the nation which helped improved agriculture as a source of economic welfare (Bonavia 13).

The Spanish found allies in the Aztec who had weapon power and advanced technology and had the will to rule over the weak nations. Coming together of the two powers added the power since they could assist each on ideas they used on how to attack the Mesoamerica people, help each other through military weapons and human resources when required.

The Spanish people took advantage of the ignorance and illiteracy of the Mexico people by blackmailing them immorally. The colonizers used their Christian missionaries to tell the local people that they were suffering from smallpox as a result of punishment from God. They told the Mesoamericans that God was not punishing the white person that is why they were living with the affected black people yet did not get the illness (Piperno, Ranere, Holst, Iriarte and Dickau 29). Since these people were ignorant, they gave up easily and decided to follow the white people’s way of life so that God would forgive them and take away the smallpox illness which was killing the local population.

The Mesoamerica people were centrally organized which created a weakness due to the serration to small groups. When the Spanish soldiers took their leaders, these people were unable to act. The leaders of these groups guided how activities would be conducted after being conquered it meant that these people were weak as despite being a lot, they could not come up with a strategy to retaliate. Since the Spanish soldiers had learned their weakness, they only required to take the leaders and weaken the people thus making it easy for the conquest to take place (Flannery and Marcus 9). They ensured that agriculture could no longer be conducted effectively to support the livelihood of the people of Mesoamerica.

Smallpox weakened the Mesoamerica population. Smallpox was becoming a menace which took away some of the strong people who would fight in the war. There were deaths of men, women, and children who would fight for their land. Sick and weak people would not stand a chance against healthy Spain soldiers. The Spain colonizers were willing to offer medical help, and the Mesoamerica people did not have any option than accepting them in their land before smallpox wiped them out.

The main economic activities that were practiced in Mexico were hunting and gathering. There were those groups who were involved in hunting the large animals such as horses and camels which later disappeared slowly due to climatic changes. Gathering wild products became the main source of food in the region. They began domesticating the plants and agriculture was adopted slowly becoming the primary source of income in the nation. Technology and civilization were not introduced into the nation until Spain indicated its interest to take over the land. These local people did not know how to deal manufacture let alone use sophisticated weapons and thus their ignorance acted as an advantage to the colonizers (Benson, Taylor, Peterson, Shattuck, Ramotnik, and Stein 912921).

Cultivation Techniques

The poor condition of the soil and lack of usable land is one of the most significant challenges faced by the farmers of Mesoamerican. The use of slash-and-burn techniques and leaving fields fallow for a period in a cycle called milpa are the main ways to deal with poor soil quality. Trees are cut down and left to dry for a span of time in a burn and slash agriculture. The nutrients are frequently hard to retain in the jungle of environment no matter how careful a farmer is. To solve the challenge of lack of significant region of usable land, Mesoamerican farmers have a found ways to create more land (Fritz 305309).

Forming terraces along the slopes of mountain valleys is a great way to create land. Gardens allow farmers to move further up the mountain they usually would be able to and use more land on the mountain slopes. Some of the yards were created by cutting down large trees, made out of walls of stones and mounding soil around them. It was proved that the Aztecs and the Maya used raised fields in some of the marshy areas and onto the floodplains. The Aztecs created additional floating plots of land called chinampas (Aiuvalasit, Neely and Bateman 1210). These schemes were made of mud, placed onto the layers of thick water vegetation.

In the orchard-gardens, much of Maya food supply was grown. The earliest maize cobs were discovered in 4300 BC. Through domestication of teosinte, maize arose and was considered as the ancestor of maize. Maize can be grounded into the floor, stored for a long time and provides a surplus for future use efficiently. Maize was crucial to the survival of the people of Mesoamerican. When the amount of labor is minimal in taking care of farmland, slash-and-burn techniques are applied.


The process of plants domestication began long ago and was adopted in different areas such as Mesoamerica. The plants were initially wild and later a relationship between human beings and plants. People are required to master the seasons and use them to ensure that the harvests are improved.

Works Cited

Aiuvalasit, M, Neely, JA & Bateman, MD ‘New radiometric dating of water management features at the prehistoric Purrón Dam Complex, Tehuacán Valley, Puebla, México’, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2010, vol. 37, no.6, pp. 1207-1213.

Andrews, EW & Hammond, N , ‘Redefinition of the Swasey Phase at Cuello, Belize’, American Antiquity, 1990, vol. 55, pp. 570-584.

Arroyo de Anda, LA & Maldonado-Koerdell, M ‘Association of artifacts with mammoth in the Valley of Mexico’, American Antiquity, 1953, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 332-340.

Benson, LV, Taylor, HE, Peterson, KA, Shattuck, BD, Ramotnik, CA, Stein, JR ‘Development and evaluation of geochemical methods for the sourcing of archaeological maize’, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2008, vol. 35, pp. 912921.

Bonavia, D Maize: origin, domestication, and its role in the development of culture, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2013 (e-book).

Evans, Ancient Mexico and Central America: archaeology and culture history, Thames & Hudson. New York 2008 .

Flannery, KV & Marcus, J Excavations at San José Mogote 1: the household archaeology, University of Michigan, 2005, Ann Arbor.

Flannery, KV & Marcus, J ‘Richard Stockton MacNeish, 1918 – 2001’, Biographic Memoirs, 2001, Vol . 80, The National Academy Press, Washington DC.

Fritz, GJ ‘Are the first American farmers getting younger?’ Current Anthropology, 1994, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 305309.

Piperno, DR Ranere, AJ, Holst, I, Iriarte J & Dickau, R, ‘Starch grain and photolith evidence for early. 2009, Ninth La Trobe University 29.

Piperno, D, ‘On the emergence of agriculture in the New World’, Current Anthropology, 1994, vol. 35, pp. 637-643.

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