The Effects of Food Processing on the Archaeological Visibility of Maize: an experimental study of carbonization of lime-treated maize kernels

Date and Time: 
Thursday, 12 April, 2012 - 17:10 to 17:30
Dezendorf, Caroline A.

 This paper explores the effects of maize processing on the carbonization and preservation of maize kernels in the archaeological record.  The shift to processing maize with lime (known as hominy production in the Eastern Woodlands and  nixtamalization in Mesoamerica) in ancient times had the effect of making maize more nutritious through increasing the availability of calcium, niacin, dietary fiber, and essential amino acids.  Less understood is how this process of cooking maize in a lime solution affects the archaeological preservation of maize; if there is a clear difference in the archaeological signature of maize remains that are and are not processed this way, then we would be able to identify this process archaeologically.  To this end, an experiment was constructed analyzing the variation in size between dried and alkaline processed maize, both before and after carbonization.  Results indicate that alkaline processed maize is less likely to fragment during carbonization.