The Origins of Agriculture in the Lowland Neotropics

1st Edition

Authors: Dolores Piperno Deborah Pearsall
Hardcover ISBN: 9780125571807
Imprint: Academic Press
Published Date: 30th March 1998
Page Count: 400


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This first modern, full-bodied study of early horticulture and agriculture in the Neotropics unites new methods of recovering, identifying, and dating plant remains with a strong case for Optimal Foraging Strategy inthis historical context. Drawing upon new approaches to tropical archaeology, Dolores Piperno and Deborah Pearsall argue that the tropical forest habitat is neither as hostile nor as benevolent for human occupation and plant experimentation as researchers have suggested. Among other conclusions, they demonstrate that tropical forest food production emerged concurrent with that in the Near East, that many tropical lowland societies practiced food production for at least 5,000 years before the emergence of village life, and that by 7000 B.P. cultivated plots had been extended into the forest, with the concomitant felling and killing of trees to admit sunlight to seed and tuber beds. Piperno and Pearsall have written a polished study of the low-lying regions between southwestern Mexico and the southern rim of the Amazon Basin. With modern techniques for recording and dating botanical remains from archaeological sites and genetic studies to determine the relationships between wild and domesticated plants, their research pulls together a huge mass of information produced by scholars in various disciplines and provides a strong theoretical framework in which to interpret it.

Key Features

@introbul:Key Features @bul:* Argues that tropical forest food production emerged at approximately the same time as that in the Near East and is earlier than currently demonstrated in highland Mexico and Peru

  • Contends that the lowland tropics witnessed climatic and vegetational changes between 11,000 BP and 10,000 BP, no less profound than those experienced at higher latitudes
  • Appeals to anyone concerned with Latin American prehistory
  • Covers the development of slash and burn (or swidden) cultivation
  • Focuses on low and lower mid-elevations


Upper division undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals working in the origins and development of agriculture, including archaeologists, botanists, anthropologists, horticulturists, natural resource managers, plantpathologists, and wildlife managers.

Table of Contents

Background of Tropical Agricultural Origins. The Neotropical Ecosystem in the Present and the Past. The Phytogeography of Neotropical Crops and Their Putative wild Ancestors. The Evolution of Foraging and Food Production. From Small-Scale Horticulture to the Formative Period: The Development of Agriculture. The Relationship of Neotropical Food Production to Food Production from Other Areas of the World. References. Index of Common and Scientific Plant Names. Subject Index.


No. of pages:
© Academic Press 1998
Academic Press
Hardcover ISBN:

About the Author

Dolores Piperno

Dolores Piperno works at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Her research includes the study of Late Pleistocene and Holocene environments and subsistence in tropical biomes through the analysis of micro-botanical remains (phytoliths and pollen), with emphasis on adaptations to the Neotropical forest.

Affiliations and Expertise

Temple University

Deborah Pearsall

Deborah Pearsall earned a PhD in anthropology from the University of Illinois. She is an archaeologist whose interests center on the origins of agriculture in the New World tropics. Books include Paleoethnobotany: A Handbook of Procedures, Plants and People in Ancient Ecuador and Origins of Agriculture in the Neotropics (co-authored with D. Piperno).

Affiliations and Expertise

University of Missouri, Columbia, USA


"Their approach is deeply informed by evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology...the book is handsomely illustrated and features a complete scholarly apparatus."-HISPANIC AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW (2003) @qu:This volume and the two volumes Spectral Analysis and Time Series (Priestley, 1981), constitute an indispensable reference set for time series analysts as well as forecasters...For those economists who study time series, this book should serve as a basic introduction to essential material that has previously been scattered in various works. This book probably represents the most general analytical treatment of the ARMA type approach to non-linear analysis currently available...Priestley, as usual, is clear and succinct. The space he gives to sharing institutions (especially when relating these topics to optimal control problems) and to explanation in both time and frequency domains will be much appreciated by economists. There are detailed subject and author indices, and extensive use of bibliographical references. @source:--MARJI LINES, University of Udine, Italy, in RICERCHE ECONOMICHE