Ohio’s first farmers, beginning sometime after 5,000 years ago, relied [on] a number of local plants, including sumpweed, goosefoot, maygrass, erect knotweed and little barley. These plants, referred to collectively as the Eastern Agricultural Complex, helped to fuel the rise of Ohio’s spectacular mound-building cultures: the Adena and Hopewell.
Paul Patton, an archaeologist at Ohio University, and his colleagues not only excavate the burned seeds of these plants from ancient hearths and trash pits, but they also grow the plants in experimental gardens….
One thing they’ve learned through their research is that early American Indian farmers genetically modified these plants by selecting the seeds of more useful varieties to plant in the next years’ gardens…By simply weeding their gardens, favored plants, such as erect knotweed, “would have seen immediate increases in yield over the course of a single growing season.”
And that was just the beginning. Domesticated varieties of goosefoot, for example, can “produce comparable harvests to major agricultural crops,” such as wheat. A 2003 study of ancient pollen recovered from layers of muck in ponds at the Fort Ancient Earthworks suggests that the Hopewell culture might have realized some of that potential.
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