An ecological model for the origins of maize-based food production on the Pacific coast of southern Mexico

Douglas James Kennett, Barbara Voorhies, Dean Martorana

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

41 Scopus citations


Maize-based food production was well-established on the Pacific coast of southwestern Mexico by ~2600 B.P.1, the beginning of the Late Formative Period. Biogeographical and genetic studies indicate that this cultigen was originally domesticated in Central Mexico by ~9200 B.P., and microbotanical studies suggest that it was widely dispersed to people living in several parts of Mexico and Central America by ~7500 B.P. People living in the Soconusco region during the Archaic Period (~7500-3500 B.P.) were foragers that may have supplemented their diets by cultivating morphologically wild plant species and some cultigens. Microbotanical studies suggest that people in this region added maize to their diets between 6000 and 5000 B.P., but a commitment to maizebased food production did not occur until 2400 years later (2600 B.P.). Based on the paleoecological record for the region and central place foraging theory, we develop a subsistence-settlement model for pre-village, Archaic Period, forager-horticulturalists and evaluate this model with the available archaeological evidence for this interval. We then use an adapted form of the Lotka-Volterra predator-prey model, cultivator-cultigen, to explore the initial adoption of maize and the development of more intensive forms of maizebased food production in the area. Based on this analysis, we argue that the long-term delay between the introduction of maize and maize-based food production resulted from the relatively low energetic returns of early maize relative to other resources available in the region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBehavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture
PublisherUniversity of California Press
Number of pages34
ISBN (Print)0520246470, 9780520246478
StatePublished - Jan 2 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)


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