Scientists overhaul corn domestication story with multidisciplinary analysis

Scientists are revising the history of one of the world’s most important crops. Drawing on genetic and archaeological evidence, researchers have found that a predecessor of today’s corn plants still bearing many features of its wild ancestor was likely brought to South America from Mexico more than 6,500 years ago. Farmers in Mexico and the southwestern Amazon continued to improve the crop over thousands of years until it was fully domesticated in each region.


Fascinating article. I just hope nobody recites it with another replay of the “See! Scientists are always getting their facts wrong. Science can’t be trusted.” argument.

Meanwhile, I found this interesting:

Teosinte bears little resemblance to the corn eaten today: Its cobs are tiny and its few kernels are protected by a nearly impenetrable outer casing. In fact, Kistler said, it’s not clear why people bothered with it all.

In the light of that hard outer casing—and the beautiful coloration and patterns of some corn varieties—I’ve wondered if the original reason for cultivation of Teosinte might have been for use in ornamentation, not for food consumption. (Yes, that’s just a wild guess.)

The problem with that theory is that teosinte isn’t very ornamental. The kernels are tiny and not colorful. Incidentally, I got to see some growing in Oaxaca last month. Big thrill for me.


Certainly true of today’s teosinte. But I once talked with a botanist—who worked for Pioneer Seed Corn Co., if I recall—who suggested that some ancient varieties of teosinte may have had patterns similar to today’s “Indian corn”. I forget what evidence he said he had for that. (That was so long ago that perhaps DNA evidence discovered since then has destroyed any possibility of that being the case. I don’t know.) Patrick’s link to the corn domestication article brought that conversation to mind.