An Investigation of Maize at Four Sites (LA 20241, LA 38597, LA 112766, and LA 131202) in Eddy County, New Mexico

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A topic of interest for many New Mexico archaeologists is the introduction and domestication of maize in the Southwest. This investigation adds to the archaeological record of when and to what extent maize was integrated into the subsistence of southeastern New Mexico prehistoric groups. Currently, the accepted date range for the introduction of maize in southeast New Mexico is 500–200 BC (Vierra 2020). Preliminary results of this investigation indicate the presence of maize in the Permian Basin of southeastern New Mexico dating to 2501 +/-125 calibrated (cal) BC; 1000 years prior to the earliest maize site recorded in the archaeological record for the area. The significance of this early date is twofold 1) the Middle Archaic date in comparison to other old maize sites in the area; and 2) the Middle Archaic date challenges the currently accepted migration patterns of maize into southeastern New Mexico. Dr. Jonathan Mabry’s 2008 study suggest that maize was introduced no later than 2100 BC in the southwest; however, Mabry states that maize use did not become common in the North American southwest until around 1400 BC (Mabry 2008). This investigation focuses on a case study of four sites, LA 20241, LA 38597, LA 112766, and LA 131202, in what is now known as Eddy County within the Permian Basin of southeastern New Mexico. I chose these sites because of my direct involvement in the data recovery field investigation and curation. I spent several weeks directing the excavation at Sites LA 112766 and LA 131202. and served as the laboratory manager for processing the artifact collections and flotation samples for all four sites. Evidence recovered from these four archaeological sites in southeast New Mexico, specifically Eddy County, suggest that maize use was low through the Archaic period and did not increase until AD 700–850 (Diehl 1996, Miller 2016, Railey 2016). This thesis demonstrates that maize was present much earlier in the archaeological record than previously reported for southeastern New Mexico. The analysis of macrobotanical, phytolith, and starch remains, and ceramics, and radiocarbon dates from cultural features at Sites LA 20241, LA 38597, LA 112766 and LA 131202 were examined to answer the question: when and to what extent was maize integrated into the subsistence of southeastern New Mexico prehistoric groups? A radiocarbon date from Feature 5, at Site LA 112766, indicates evidence of maize as early as 2501 +/-125 calibrated (cal) BC. Additionally, radiocarbon dates identified six Late Archaic features and thirteen Early Formative features that contained maize residue collectively from Sites LA 20241, LA 38597, LA 112766, and LA 131202. Lastly, Site LA 20241 had a single Late Formative feature that yielded maize residue. This thesis will focus on the signature of maize in the archaeological record of Archaic and Formative groups of southeastern New Mexico.