Oldest Popcorn Discovered in South America

on January 24, 2012 2:16 PM EST

Peruvian corn cobs
Researchers have discovered that Peruvians ate popcorn 6,700 years ago (Photo: the Smithsonian Tropical Resea)

Researchers from Peru's Academia National de la Historia and the Vanderbilt University in the U.S. have discovered the oldest popcorn in South America.

The researchers discovered some of the oldest corncobs, husks, stalks and tassels dating back to 4,700 BC at Paredones and Huaca Prieta, two mound sites on Peru's arid northern coast.

They found that ancient inhabitants of Peru had been eating popcorn 2,000 years earlier than previously reported. The inhabitant of that area ate flour corn and popcorn. However, corn was not important part of their diet.

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According to the researchers, corn arrived years before pots came into existence. Corn originated in Mexico around 9,000 years ago from a wild grass called teosinte, a tiny corn cob that was around 4 cm long. After ten thousand years, the corn reached South America where the evolution of corn took place.

 "These new and unique races of corn may have developed quickly in South America, where there was no chance that they would continue to be pollinated by wild teosinte," said Dolores Piperno, scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

"Because there is so little data available from other places for this time period, the wealth of morphological information about the cobs and other corn remains at this early date is very important for understanding how corn became the crop we know today," he said.

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