Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ceren: The American Pompeii

Archaeologists have been uncovering a Mayan village called Ceren that was buried in ten feet of ash around 600 A.D. Now, they've found a freshly planted-manioc field there, too--fresh, as of 1400 years ago.

It's the oldest evidence of manioc cultivation in the Americas, and helps explain how Mayan towns fed growing populations.

What is manioc? Wiki has a great article with pictures. The manioc root is what people eat, but it takes a lot of preparation, since it contains arsenic. That has to be leeched out by pounding, squeezing, or grating, then cooking or stewing, and drying.

Once that's all done, manioc can be used to make flour, soup, stew, tapioca, dough, dumplings. . . The Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History maintains a website showing how manioc is grown and used by the Canela people of Brazil (as in this photo).

Back to Ceren, which was buried by an eruption of the Loma Caldera, preserving homes and everyday life, just as Pompeii did.

The most complete story of the Ceren field discovery that I found is here at EurekAlert!, although others (like the Los Angeles Times) include the salient information.

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