Starch granule evidence for the earliest potato use in North America [Anthropology]
The prehistory of wild potato use, leading to its domestication and diversification, has been well-documented in, and confined to, South America. At least 20 tuber-bearing, wild species of Solanum are known from North and Central America, yet their importance in ancient diets has never been assessed from the archaeological record. Here, we report the earliest evidence of wild potato use in North America at 10,900–10,100 calendar years (cal) B.P. in the form of well-preserved starch granules extracted from ground stone tools at North Creek Shelter, southern Utah. These granules have been identified as those of Solanum jamesii Torr. (Four Corners potato), a tuber-bearing species native to the American Southwest. Identification was based on applying five strictly defined diagnostic characteristics (eccentric hilum, longitudinal fissure, lack of fissure branching, fissure ratio, and maximum granule size) to each of 323 archaeological granules. Of those, nine were definitively assigned to S. jamesii based on possession of all characteristics, and another 61 were either likely or possibly S. jamesii depending on the number of characteristics they possessed. The oldest granules were found in substratum 4k (10,900–10,100 cal B.P.). Younger deposits, dating to ∼6,900 cal B.P., also contained tools with S. jamesii granules, indicating at least 4,000 y of intermittent use. Ethnographic and historical accounts extend the period of use to more than 10,000 y. The question then arises as to whether some S. jamesii populations could have undergone transport, cultivation, and eventual domestication over such a long period of time.
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