Collaborative Research:A Long Term Perspective on Agricultural Development Grant uri icon


  • Drs. Amber VanDerwarker, Douglas Kennett, and Heather Thakar will undertake research to study early plant domestication and the transition from foraging to food production over the last 12,000 years in Central America. Previous scholarship has focused almost exclusively on maize domestication because of its importance for the development of complex political institutions throughout Mesoamerica. This project expands this narrow focus on maize to include the broader forest and field agricultural regimes. Given that most of the world''s population today is supported by agriculture, there is enormous value in reconstructing the breadth of ancient cropping practices along with the economic and societal resilience it affords. Ancient analogs that integrate field cultivation and arboriculture provide alternatives to modern mono-cropping in ways that can conserve soil fertility and promote cultigen diversity. Archaeology is well situated to inform modern farming practices through the documentation of ancient agricultural practices worldwide and the reconstruction of cropping strategies practiced through time in particular regional contexts. In regions such as Mesoamerica, which represents one of the few primary centers of plant domestication, the nature and timeline of the establishment and augmentation of agricultural and arboricultural systems is of great significance. Drs. VanDerwarker, Kennett, and Thakar will examine both the (1) adoption, spread, and intensification of field cultigens within an evolving regional food economy, and (2) the extent of forest management and change in tree cropping systems. The research team will accomplish these goals through the analysis of well-preserved plant remains from El Gigante Rockshelter in Honduras, which was occupied intermittently for 11,000 years. The research team is composed of archaeologists specializing in archaeobotany, archaeometry, and Mesoamerican prehistory, and will employ an integrated analysis of plant identification, metric analysis, and direct radiocarbon dating. This combined approach will allow the team to not only document the timing and use of new domesticates, but will also facilitate the reconstruction of field clearance and woodland management practices that shaped modern forest communities in this region. The team will thus generate new data and interpretations for long-term human-landscape adaptations while creating educational and training opportunities for students and local Honduran stakeholder communities. This award reflects NSF''s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation''s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

date/time interval

  • 2018 - 2020