Manoic and ancient diets

There's an article today on Reuter's newswire about a South American volcano eruption around 1,400 years ago.

According to the article there's a well preserved field of cultivated manoic buried beneath the lava flows. The article says that this is the first evidence that the nutritious crop was cultivated by the Mayans.

That's manoic, aka cassava, over there on the left. According to Wiki, Cubans use it for IBS. Maybe I should try it.

This keys into two books I've read in the past year. In Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan spends a third of the book discussing and trying to duplicate the diet of ancient peoples and Jared Diamond, in his book Collapse, focuses on how agriculture impacts the success and failure of current and ancient civilizations. This discovery of the manoic field helps explain how the Mayan civilization prospered in an area that was often getting sub-par rainfall.

"We have long wondered what else the prehistoric Mayan people were growing and eating besides corn and beans, so finding this field was a jackpot of sorts for us," anthropologist Payson Sheets, who led the expedition, said in a statement.

"Manioc's extraordinary productivity may help explain how the Classic Maya at huge sites like Tikal in Guatemala and Copan in Honduras supported such dense populations."

Manoic is a calorie-rich tuber that is native to Central and South America. This finding is the first evidence for cultivation of manoic in the New World and strikes me as very significant because corn, the plant traditionally associated with the Mayan empire, isn't very drought tolerant. Manoic does far better on limited rainfall. And from the evidence presented in Diamond's book, that area of Central and South America underwent many periods of drought often a decade long, over the past two thousand years. Corn just wouldn't cut it as a foundation for the general diet. Corn and manoic are mostly carbohydrates though manoic leaves, while bitter, do supply most of the amino acids people need. Manoic unfortunately lacks methionine. Since both corn and manoic lack complete protein the bean portion of the Mayan was essential to their diet since it was probably the only vegetative source of complete protein for them.

The manioc field lay under 10 feet of ash at the ancient village of Ceren, 15 miles west of San Salvador, Sheets said.

Like Italy's Pompeii, Ceren's buildings, artifacts and landscape were preserved by the sudden eruption of a volcano -- in this case the nearby Loma Caldera volcano about 600 A.D.

The Mayan civilization thrived in what is now Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, southern Mexico and Belize until it disappeared mysteriously around 1000 AD.


kenju said…
Dave, if you try manioc, tell me how you prepare it - if it helps your IBS.

It looks like sweet potatoes to me.
SassyAssy said…
Is this what Hawaiians use to make poi?? That stuff is purple slime--blech!

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