M.A. Theses: Vivian Gotthilf, 1983

Maize Storage Strategies: An Ethno- Archaeological Perspective

Archaeologists interested in the reconstruction of prehistoric subsistence adaptations are often hampered by the inherent limitations of the data - that is, the perishable nature of plant remains and in some cases of the food storage facilities themselves. In archaeological contexts, highly visible archaeological features such as bell-shaped pits are generally assumed to have been used for food storage, especially maize.

Based on the results of ethno-archaeological research in Central and South America, this thesis finds that pits were used for numerous activities but not for maize storage. Apparently, pit environments were too moist for the successful long term storage of this staple. Instead, maize was stored in two major above ground facilities designated as high and low storage strategies in this thesis.

A comparative analysis of data, concerning maize storage strategies from 24 Maya communities situated in contrasting environmental zones inhabited by speakers of various languages, was conducted. Inter-community differences in maize storage strategies appear to be best explained as patterned responses to climatic variables related to food storage. Within the study area, high and/or low storage techniques were adapted to varying climatic conditions. An independent test, using data from 23 communities located both inside and outside the Maya area, was performed and the results were confirmed.

Emic storage principles were found to conform with storage requirements as prescribed by scientific maize storage experts. However, the Maya's views on maize storage were not consistent with archaeological assumptions on storage. Contrary to archaeological belief, maize could not be stored for long underground. This, in general, is a poor storage strategy for maize. Large bell-shaped cache pits, however, were known to have been used for hiding maize in the past, only under extremely stressful circumstances such as warfare. It may be generally unrealistic to identify maize storage facilities in the archaeological record in terms of pits. In contrast, the optimal storage choices of high and/or low storage techniques can be relatively accurately predicted in the archaeological record on the basis of the ecological framework provided in this thesis.