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Early Plant Domestication in Eastern North America
Eastern North America is one of the dozen or so world areas identified as independent centers of domestication. Between 5,000 and 3,800 years ago, four different indigenous seed plants were brought under domestication by indigenous societies in the East, long before maize, beans, and other cultigens were introduced from Mexico. Two of these eastern seed plants have become important crops in today’s economy – the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and a variety of squash (Cucurbita pepo ssp. ovifera) which includes green and yellow skinned summer squashes and the acorn squash. Two other eastern domesticates – marshelder (Iva annua) and chenopod (Chenopodium berlandieri) are no longer grown as domesticated plants. The wild ancestors of these four domesticates still grow today in the region. For three of these species (sunflower, squash, and marshelder), an increase in the size of seeds recovered from archaeological sites indicates when they were initially domesticated. For the fourth species (chenopod, aka lamsquarter, goosefoot), domestication is indicated by a thinner seed coat, or no seed coat at all.
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