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Archaeologists Discover 3,800-Year-Old Underwater Vegetable Garden

Archaeologists Discover 3,800-Year-Old Underwater Vegetable Garden


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Piece by piece, archaeologists are discovering evidence of creative engineering techniques practiced by innovative ancient peoples. One such example is making archaeological news headlines – the discovery of a 3800-year-old wetland garden in British Columbia, Canada. This interesting find provides the first direct archaeological evidence of nondomestic plant management in mid-to-late Holocene peoples of the Northwest Coast. It has also provided local First Nations people with a bittersweet connection to their ancient ancestors.

Humans have used a variety a means to manipulate the environment around them. Although some are certainly more destructive than others, the desire to modify the environment and enhance survival is an age-old tale. Countless innovative techniques that were used to aid humanity, while leaving little negative impact on nature, have been lost to modern society. However, the recent discovery in the Pitt Polder wetlands of British Columbia is providing new information on these kinds of activities.

As Live Science reports, archaeologists discovered 3,767 whole and fragmented wapato tubers in a man-made underwater garden. By using tightly-packed, uniformly-sized rocks to create a foundation, the people living in that area were able to stop the plants from growing too far underground, making harvesting easier.

This rock pavement discovered at the site would have made harvesting the wapato tubers much easier. ( Katzie Development Limited Partnership )

The site’s marshy environment also proved a great help for conservation. Some of the 3000-plus year old tubers were preserved so well that they even have their starchy insides. The wapato tubers were dark brown to black in color. Wooden tools were also preserved in the waterlogged site.

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Wapato tubers (Sagittaria latifolia) , also known as duck-potato, broadleaf arrowhead, or Indian potato, are plants that grow in shallow wetlands. The report on the discovery in Science Advances explains that these plants “were a historically prized and heavily traded food resource for indigenous populations along the Fraser and Columbia rivers, including the Katzie. Typically harvested from October to February, wapato was an important source of dietary starch through the winter months.”

1918 drawing of a Broad-leaved Arrowhead, (Sagittaria latifolia) plant.

The excavations also provided evidence that the tubers were used as an economic or social resource. As the researchers wrote : “Close to 150 fire-hardened digging stick tips, several found embedded tip down in the pavement, demonstrate how the wapato tubers were harvested en masse.”

The report in Science Advances also shows the people living at the settlement near the wetland garden carefully monitored and engineered its hydrology to create an environment where the tubers thrived.

A: Sample of conserved wood digging stick tips. B: Ancient wapato tubers (preconservation) excavated from the wet-site garden area at the Pitt Polder wetlands. ( Hoffmann et al .)

It is interesting to note that the human impact on the wetlands seemed to help the floral environment while the site was inhabited. Debbie Miller, who works with the archaeological consulting firm owned by the Katzie Nation, told News Network Archaeology that “the site soon acidified and dried up” after the inhabitants left it about 3,200 years ago. Sedimentary analysis backed up this belief.

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Tanja Hoffmann of the Katzie Development Limited Partnership and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia led the excavation and analysis of the wapato tubers. She was joined by a crew of 90 people, many of whom members of the Katzie First Nation. Miller says that several young people were involved as well, who used the project “to better connect with their heritage.” She said:

Culturally we talked about what it meant to be in the earth with our ancestors and touching their lives. We’ve just walked in the house of the ancestors. It was for many, many of our people an absolute connection to their history, something that they couldn’t have gained in any other way.”

However, the project proved bittersweet for Miller and many others - the underwater garden was uncovered during roadwork, but was paved over when the excavations were complete.

Site location. The dotted line represents the approximate historic extent of the Pitt Polder wetlands. ( Hoffmann et al .)


Archaeology breakthrough: £38million shipwreck treasure discovered in 'Garden of Gold'

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Australia: Divers discover underwater archaeological sites

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In total, around £38million's worth of gold bars, coins, and dust was discovered &ndash representing the recovery of what was described as as the greatest lost treasure in US history. The 3,100 gold coins, 45 gold bars and more than 36 kilograms of gold dust recovered from the wreckage of the S.S. Central America steamship was discovered by Bob Evans. He was the chief scientist on the voyage and found the wreck in 1988. As the coins and gold &ndash which Mr Evans cleaned piece by piece &ndash said in 2018: &ldquoThis is a whole new season of discovery.

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&ldquoWe are now peering beneath the grime and the rust that is on the coins, removing those objects and those substances and getting to look at the treasure as it was in 1857.&rdquo

Dwight Manley, the managing partner of the California Gold Marketing Group, lauded the treasure &ndash saying one coin alone could go for $1million (£764million).

He said: &ldquoThis is something that in hundreds of years people will still be talking about, reading about, looking back on and collecting things from.

Archaeology news: The treasure was worth £38mn (Image: Getty/Reuters)

Archaeology news: The treasure had to be cleaned (Image: Reuters)

"There are no other ships that sank that haven&rsquot been recovered that rival this or are similar to this, so it&rsquos really a once-in-a-lifetime situation.&rdquo

Evans was aboard the expedition lead by Captain Tommy Thompson in the late 1980s when they first spotted what they called the "Garden of Gold" more than a mile below the surface.

Evans said: "Gold bars and coins . lightly covered with sediment. That's kind of what's fascinating about it in some ways. You've got this coral that is like growing right out of a block of gold."

Using a robotic vehicle they'd built in a garage, they were able to scoop up some £38million ($50million) in gold.

Related articles

Archaeology news:Thompson began searching for the SS Central America in 1983 (Image: shipofgoldinfo.com)

Archaeology news: Tommy G. Thompson organised an expedition to find the epic ship (Image: facebook)

Mr Manley added: "There are dozens of coins this time that are the finest known.

"They're like little time capsules every time you hold one, who had it before, what it was for."

A similar find was made on the Spanish vessel &ndash Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which went down in a battle off Portugal&rsquos Cape St Mary in 1804.

Archaeology news: It was found near North Carolina (Image: getty)

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Researchers found 594,000 gold and silver coins worth £308 million from the site in 2007.

Ivan Negueruela, the director of Spain&rsquos National Museum of Underwater Archaeology, said: &ldquoThe finds are of inestimable scientific and historic value.&rdquo

The vessel is thought to have been downed before Spain joined the Napoleonic Wars against Britain. When the 1802 Treaty of Amiens broke down, Britain declared war on France amid uneasy peace with Spain.


Ancient Egyptian tomb found containing 3,800-year-old mummy

Archaeologists have uncovered a 3,800-year-old tomb where the brother of one of the most important governors of ancient Egypt's Twelfth Dynasty was buried.

The intact tomb was discovered in the necropolis at Qubbet El-Hawa, which translates to Hill of Wind, by the Spanish Archaeological Mission in Aswan, Egypt.

Alejandro Jimenez-Serrano, from the University of Jaen, told Ahram Online a well preserved mummy was also found.

He said it was covered with a polychrome cartonnage, collars and a mask.

The tomb also contained funeral goods such as pottery and wooden models representing funerary boats and scenes of daily life, as well as an outer and inner coffin, both made of cedar.

Inscriptions on the coffin name the deceased as Shemai, son of Satethotep and Khema, who was governor of the Elephantine island on the Nile under the reign of Amenemhat II.

Mr Afifi said the eldest brother of Shemai, Sarenput II, also served as governor of Elephantine under the rule of Senwosret II and Senwosret III.

Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

1 /9 Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

Archaeological treasures of ancient Greece

Previously, 14 members of the ruling family of Elephantine were discovered in Qubbet El-Hawa.

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The necropolis of Qubbet El-Hawa was also the site where rock carvings depicting masked men hunting an ostrich, thought to date back 6,000 years, were found.

The paintings, pecked into the rocks with a hard point, are now barely visible due to their considerable age.

But Egyptologists from the University of Bonn traced the outlines of the visible markings to discover the dots depict three figures: a hunter with a bow, a man thought to be a hunt dancer and an African ostrich.

“This archaeological area is about a millennium older than we knew before,” Ludwig Morenz of the University of Bonn told Live Science.


800 Ancient Egyptian Tombs Discovered at Middle Kingdom Necropolis

In Egypt, archaeologists have uncovered over 800 graves thought to date back some 4,000 years.

Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced—Archaeologists have been aware for more than a century of the huge haul of graves during an excavation to an ancient cemetery site.

Archaeologist and expedition co-leader Prof. Sarah Parcak said the tombs would have featured roofs and even causeways to the nearby riverbank, although they are not obvious above ground today.

“Given the number and density of tombs, it probably looked a lot like the cemeteries of New Orleans do today,” she told Newsweek.

The grave lies between a pair of pyramids near Lisht, a village south of Cairo near Al Ayat, National Geographic reported. “Lisht is a fairly well known ancient site, and the location of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom capital, called Itj-Tawy,” said Parcak.

“It is exciting because we have a real opportunity to lean more about the diverse classes and groups of people that lived and then died at Itj-Tawy.” The city itself, she added, has never been discovered.

“[The discovery] adds a great deal to what we know about the Middle Kingdom, a time which has long been overlooked in favor of the earlier Old Kingdom ‘Pyramid Age’ and the later New Kingdom ‘Golden Age’ of Tutankhamen and Nefertiti,” Professor Joann Fletcher of the University of York told Newsweek.

By investigating and ultimately safeguarding the site—which has been known for illegal looting—Parcak and team have shed light on the “often shadowy” period, she added.

The Middle Kingdom, which stretched from about 2000 to 1650 B.C.E., is characterized by a “blossoming” of art and culture, Parcak told National Geographic. This period also saw Osiris, god of the underworld, rise to prominence among the deities commonly worshipped in Egypt.

The pyramids near the cemetery mark the graves of pharaohs Senusret I and his father Amenemhet I, kings of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. This period is often considered a peak of the Middle Kingdom. “These tombs and the information we get from them will begin to address this gap of information about Egypt’s Renaissance period,” Parcak told Newsweek.

Amenemhet I’s pyramid—which resembles those of Egypt’s Old Kingdom—is poorly preserved. Much of the structure has disintegrated and it has been very difficult for archaeologists to reach the pyramid’s interior. Once a highly imposing monument, it now stands at roughly 65 feet tall.

Researchers found the tombs during an expedition led by the University of Alabama-Birmingham and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. They mapped the complex of tombs and began restoring an elite tomb, National Geographic reported.

“From this area, there really aren’t very many tombs that are known, except for the royal tombs there,” Kathryn Bard, an archaeologist at Boston University who was not involved in the work, told the publication. “That’s why this cemetery is important.”

“A discovery on this scale is incredibly exciting,” Fletcher said. “[It] has huge ramifications for what we will be able to say about ‘the real people’ of Middle Kingdom Egypt, rather than just the royal family.”

Officials have widely publicised recent archaeological discoveries such the remains of a Neolithic village. Tourism continues to suffer in Egypt following the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

Minister of Antiquities Khaled al-Anani recently encouraged visitors to see a recently-unearthed sphinx statue, Egypt Today previously reported.

In other ancient news, archaeologists recently discovered an ancient board game in the hidden chamber of a castle located in today’s Russia.

The remains of an ancient lost city in China, meanwhile, are transforming scientists’ understanding of the country’s history.


Wapato

Wapato is a vegetable commonly referred to as an “Indian potato.” The texture is similar to a potato but some say it tastes more like a chestnut.

This unique discovery gives us a rare glimpse into what the world was like 3,800-years ago.

According to the archaeological findings released, the hunter-gatherers used garden tools similar to what we would use today.

The research team also found nearly 150 digging stick tips. With several of them stuck in the pavement it shows how the wapato tubers were originally harvested.

At that time, wapato was a valuable trading commodity. Because of its high starch content, it was also a great addition during the Winter months.

The team of researchers were mostly members of Katzie First Nation. Therefore, it was a great opportunity for them to connect with their heritage.

Once the excavation process was complete, the garden was paved over to make way for more public roads.


The History Blog

/>Some time between 140 and 120 B.C., a Roman ship sank off the coast of what is now Tuscany. It was crammed full of goods from different ports of call — wine amphorae from Rhodes, glass cups from Syria, ceramics from Athens and Pergamon, a pitcher from Cyprus, and lamps from Asia Minor — making it possible to trace the movements of the ship before it met its unfortunate demise. The variety alone would make it an exceptional find, but underwater archaeologists also found a medical chest, probably belonging to a doctor on the ship rather than being a product for sale.

Inside the chest were various scary implements of the trade, including a bleeding cup and surgery hook, 136 boxwood drug vials and most importantly, several tins of green pills. Despite having been sitting on the sea floor for 2000+ years where sea plants grew thickly up and around the wreck, the tins were still sealed and the pills completely dry and intact.

The wreck was discovered in 1974, explored by archaeologists in 1982 and excavated starting in 1989. Underwater archaeologists from the Archeological Superintendency of Tuscany excavated the ship for two years, but it wasn’t until recently that genetic sequencing technology has made possible detailed DNA analysis of the pills.

Geneticist Robert Fleischer of the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, who presented the findings last week at the Fourth International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology in Copenhagen, Denmark, was able to analyze DNA fragments in two of the pills.

After comparing the sequences to the GenBank genetic database maintained by the US National Institutes of Health, he identified many plants typical of a vegetable garden, including carrot, radish, parsley, celery, wild onion and cabbage. Alfalfa, yarrow and the more exotic hibiscus were also part of the mix.

“The plants match those described in ancient texts such as those by the ancient Greek physicians Dioscorides and Galen. However, more work has to be done since we do not have the complete sequence for each plant, but only fragments which could belong to other species as well,” Touwaide said.

Yarrow was known to have been used as a coagulant, staunching the flow of blood from wounds. Pedanius Dioscorides, a physician who practiced in Rome in the 1st century A.D., was a big proponent of carrots as a reptile bite preventative and as aids in conception.

There were also some big surprises. Analysis of the pills returned the presence of sunflower, a New World plant. It could have been a recent contaminant, so further study must be done, but if it’s confirmed that there were sunflowers in the ancient Mediterranean some botanical history is going to have to be rewritten.

Touwaide is also hoping further analysis will find theriac, a medicine Galen, the 2nd c. A.D. Father of Pharmacology, described in his writings that contains more than 80 different plant extracts. Pinpointing the exact measurements ancient doctors used to manufacture the pills would not only be just plain cool from a historical perspective, but might open new avenues of pharmacological research.

Another question yet to be answered is how these tablets were used. They’re 3 centimeters (1″) wide and half a centimeter thick, so they wouldn’t have been terribly comfy for a patient to ingest. They might have been dissolved in water and wine to make a tussin-like beverage, or they could have been melted and applied topically like an ointment. The Archeological Superintendency of Tuscany hopes to publish their final results by next year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 at 11:54 PM and is filed under Ancient, Modern(ish), Treasures. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


Garden of Eden FOUND? How archaeologist discovered ‘true location’ after Jerusalem find

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Garden of Eden may be located in Jerusalem says archeologist

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The Garden of Eden, also referred to as Paradise, is the biblical garden of God described in the Book of Genesis about the creation of man. The narrative surrounds the apparent first man and woman &ndash Adam and Eve &ndash placed in the garden to guard the Tree of Life, before being tempted by a serpent to eat from a forbidden tree &ndash a move that saw them expelled. Many have long searched for its location, based on clues given in the biblical text, but the age-long question may have finally been uncovered.

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Archaeologist Jodi Magness revealed during Morgan Freeman&rsquos documentary: &ldquoThe Story of God&rdquo, how a discovery in a church in Jerusalem led her to believe she has the answer.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located in the Old City and is believed to be the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and later resurrected &ndash in a place known as &ldquoCalvary&rdquo, or &ldquoGolgotha&rdquo.

Dr Magness revealed how this was also the apparent burial place for Adam.

She said in 2017: &ldquo[The clue comes from] underneath the rock of Golgotha, the rocky outcrop which Christians believe Jesus was crucified on.

Dr Magness identifies a crack (Image: WIKI/NETFLIX)

The find was made in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Image: WIKI)

The Garden of Eden, or Paradise, becomes conceptualised as the spot where the presence of God dwells

Jodi Magness

"Below is the chapel of Adam and there is a tradition which goes way back in Christianity which connects this spot to Adam &ndash the first man.

&ldquoWhen Jesus was crucified on top of the rock above us, his blood flowed down through a crack in the rock.

&ldquoAnd Adam, the first man, lay buried underneath, but when Jesus&rsquo blood flowed onto him, he was resurrected.&rdquo

This idea contradicts the description given in the Bible.

The Book of Genesis clearly lists four rivers in association with the garden, Pishon, Gihon, Chidekel and Phirat, suggesting its location was in southern Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq.

Morgan Freeman and Jodi Magness visited Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Image: NETFLIX)

Dr Magness pointed out a crack in the wall (Image: NETFLIX)

However, Dr Magness detailed how this may actually support a theory she has.

She added: &ldquoWell, the version of the story that ended up in the Book of Genesis seems to place the Garden of Eden somewhere in Mesopotamia.

&ldquoBut I think Adam had a very special connection with Jerusalem.

&ldquoThe Garden of Eden, or Paradise, becomes conceptualised as the spot where the presence of God dwells.

&ldquoIn early Judaism and the time of Jesus the presence of God dwelled in the temple, and hence why Jerusalem was conceived of as Eden [at that time].&rdquo

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Image: GETTY)

Dr Magness believes the Garden is metaphorical (Image: NETFLIX)

Dr Magness was asked if she believed the Garden of Eden is actually a metaphor for the beginning of life and is, in fact, wherever God&rsquos presence is.

She responded: &ldquoWell, yes &ndash of course.

&ldquoAdam was the first human and, in Hebrew, the word &lsquoAdam&rsquo means &lsquoman&rsquo.

&ldquoAlso, if you take off the &lsquoa&rsquo, you are left with &lsquodam&rsquo, in Hebrew that means &lsquoblood&rsquo.

&ldquoAnd if you add &lsquoah&rsquo to the end, &lsquoadamah&rsquo means land.&rdquo


Chinampas, Floating Gardens of Ancient Mexico

The East Germans and the Italians dominated the opening round of rowing in the men’s coxed pairs at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The East Germans had promise, but in the finals the Italians crossed the finish line almost 2 full seconds ahead of their closest rivals, the team from the Netherlands that would earn the silver medal for this event. The East Germans lost to the team from Denmark which beat them by a mere fifteen hundredths of a second to earn the bronze medal. These Olympic rowing events took place between October 13 and October 19, 1968 at the Virgilio Uribe Olympic Course in the Canal de Cuemanco. The canal is located in the remnants of Lake Xochimilco in the southern part of Mexico’s Federal District and part of the greater Mexico City metropolitan area. While most of the nation of Mexico was overjoyed to be hosting the Olympic Games in 1968, many of the residents of Xochimilco were not. To create the Olympic Rowing Course in the canals of Xochimilco, the Mexican government first had to destroy several square acres of chinampas, or what has been termed “floating gardens.” Some anthropologists believe that the Xochimilco locals have been tending these chinampas for several hundred years with individual family histories involving chinampa farming going back too many generations to count. So, while most of the nation of Mexico cheered, the chinampa farmers of Xochimilco wept. The acquatic course is still in use today by canoers, kayakers, and rowers. The destroyed floating gardens were never restored.

The term “floating garden” is somewhat fanciful and romantic and doesn’t really describe what a chinampa actually is. Chinampas don’t float, rather, they are raised square or rectangular plots of land used for farming in shallow lakes. A chinampa field is essentially a series of artificial islands connected by a series of canals. How are these created? The chinampa farmer builds up the chinampa by first making a small fence-like structure and attaching it to a series of stakes placed in a square or rectangular formation in the lake bottom. This underwater fenced-in area is filled by dredging the bottom of the lake. Eventually, an island forms above the water level of the lake as the farmer piles more and more mud and debris into the center of the fenced-in area. Sometimes farmers plant types of cypress or willow trees in each of the 4 corners of the chinampa to secure the underwater fence. Because the sediment and decaying vegetation at the bottom of the lake is rich in nutrients, the chinampa becomes a very fertile place for growing crops. Periodically, chinampa farmers clear sediment and debris out the canals and pile it on top of the chinampa thus ensuring successive productive growing seasons by introducing fresh nutrient-rich materials. The Aztecs called chinampas chinamitl which means, “square made of sticks.” Chinampas were measured in mati, with one mati equaling 1.667 meters. Using Aztec codexes and some colonial documents as guides, archaeologists and other researchers theorize that most Aztec chinampas measured roughly 100 feet by 10 feet. Sometimes they had small ditches running down the middle of them to ensure that all the plants in the chinampa had access to water, especially during times of low rainfall or drought. Generally, a chinampa farmer could take in seven harvests per year and grow a variety of crops on these fertile artificial islands.

Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a conquistador under the command of Hernán Cortés during the conquest of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, was the first European to describe chinampas. As the Spaniards were the invited guests of Aztec Emperor Montezuma and lived among the Aztecs for months before things went sour, Bernal Díaz had ample time to observe and write. His diaries and notes eventually became his great work, Historia de la verdadera conquista de la Nueva España, or in English, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. Bernal Díaz describes the chinampas the Spanish first encountered in Xochimilco, which in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs appropriately means, “Fields of Flowers.” Ironically, Bernal Díaz was describing the exact same location used for the 1968 Olympic rowing events. Here are his words:

“The chinampas were formed by heaping up the soft mud from the lake onto the woven reeds in order to form seed beds for flowers and vegetables, and these floating gardens gradually increased in size and became more compact from the growth of the interlacing roots of the willows and other water-loving plants until they may have supported a small hut for the owner and his family, and the lengthening roots eventually anchored then on the shallow margin of the lake.

These gardens are divided into long narrow strips with canals running between just wide enough for the passage of a dugout canoe. The Indian cultivator poles his canoe along the narrow channels and scoops up the soft mud from the bottom to spread it over the land and splashes the water over the growing plants with his paddle. It was probably this method of cultivation which gave the mainly rectangular arrangement of the streets of the city of Tenochtitlán, the more unsymmetrical canals showing the original waterways between the mudbanks, while the aggregation of chinampas may have left an irregular margin of outlying houses and gardens.”

Bernal Díaz further described how the Aztecs divided the lake for the benefit of chinampa farming. There were 5 lakes in one, essentially, with Lake Texcoco having what could be considered bays that were deemed to be separate lakes. Lake Zumpango and Lake Xaltocan were the northern arms of Lake Texcoco while Lake Chalco and Lake Xochimilco were the southern arms. The Aztecs built their capital on an island in the southeastern part of Lake Texcoco near where Lake Chalco and Lake Xochimilco blended in with the larger body of the lake. The waters of Lakes Chalco and Xochimilco were fresher than most of the rest of the Lake Texcoco system, so Aztec engineers built a dyke crossing the middle of the southwestern part of Lake Texcoco to keep most of the farming-friendly fresh water in a more concentrated form in the southern zone of the lake system. This left a large part Lake Texcoco not suitable for chinampa-based farming. The wealthy Kingdom of Texcoco on the eastern shores of the lake with the same name had no chinampas owing to the brackish and swampy nature of their portion of the lake. The small kingdom that would later be incorporated into the Aztec Empire often worked with the Tenochtitlán Aztecs on shared water issues including cooperating during times of flood. For more information on the Kingdom of Texcoco please see Mexico Unexplained episode number 133: https://mexicounexplained.com//the-tragic-history-of-the-house-of-texcoco/. At the time of the Spanish arrival the island city of Xaltocan in the northern section of the Lake Texcoco system had chinampas surrounding it because the water there was a little less salty than the waters immediately to the south, but the bulk of the chinampas were in that cordoned off southwest part of the lake system. The Spanish noted that the island city of Tenochtitlán had probably grown over the years because of chinampa farming ringing the island. The canals of the older chinampas closer to the island’s shores were gradually filled in thus giving the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán more room to expand. The bulk of the chinampas in the lake area existed in Xochimilco and Chalco where people grew corn, squash, beans, amaranth, tomatoes, peppers, flowers, and herbs. The chinampas around Tenochtitlán grew these traditional crops as well, but also grew fruits and vegetables from other parts of the empire. The Spanish marveled at the variety of the plants growing in the chinampas surrounding the imperial capital. The Spanish also wrote that chinampas were passed down through families in wills and many families had been tending to the same group of chinampas for 6 or 7 generations.

While chinampas are often seen as an Aztec invention dating back less than a thousand years, there is evidence showing that other cultures used the chinampas farming method in other parts of ancient Mexico. At Laguna de Magdalena in the Mexican state of Jalisco about 35 northwest of Guadalajara, archaeologists have discovered ancient chinampas dating back to between 400 and 700 AD. This would pre-date the Aztecs by several centuries. The archaeology of western Mexico is not as thoroughly documented as central Mexico or the Maya area, so researchers have a hard time assigning a culture to the builders of the chinampas at Lake Magdalena. Most agree that they belonged to the little-understood Teuchitlán tradition, a mysterious culture known for their shaft tombs, circular buildings, and whimsical clay figurines. No one knows if the chinampa farming method originated in western Mexico and spread to the central lake region or the other way around.

Do chinampas exist in the modern world? The 1968 Mexico City Olympics did not completely destroy the chinampa culture. The famous “Floating Gardens of Xochimilco” had been an attraction drawing foreign tourists long before the Olympics and for some decades after. Besides the all-but faded out tourist industry in the remaining canals, there are relics of the once great chinampa fields that survive into the present century. Many plots of land farmed by families since before the Spanish Conquest are still in use in the towns of Tlahuac, San Gregorio, San Luis and Mixquic, all around Xochimilco. These chinampas exist in canals and lagoons in the parts of Lake Xochimilco that haven’t been either purposefully drained or have just dried up. As Mexico City grows and its thirst for water increases, the chinampas farmers find it more difficult to maintain the canals in the face of uncertain water levels. The centuries old chinampas face threats from urban sprawl, the presence of pesticides and other toxins in the water, and a fading interest in this unique form of agriculture among the younger generations. While there have been some chinampa revitalization efforts in the first few years of the 21 st Century, many do not expect this way of life to last for more than 25 years into the future in Mexico.

While the unbroken link to the pre-Hispanic Aztecs might be severed in the coming decades, many permaculture groups in various parts of the world have been experimenting with chinampa agriculture in their local areas. Perhaps people in China, the Netherlands or even the United States may carry the torch and breathe new life into this fascinating and important part of ancient Mexican culture.

Calnek, Edward E., “Settlement Pattern and Chinampa Agriculture,” American Antiquity 1972, 37(104-15)

Popper, Virginia. “Investigating Chinampa Farming,” Backdirt, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology – UCLA, Fall/Winter 2000.

Williams, Eduardo. “Prehispanic West Mexico: A Mesoamerican Cultural Area.” Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc.


Massive Green Squash Smashes Record for World’s Largest

Over the weekend, history was made in New England. Retired cabinet maker Joe Jutras’ green squash weighed in at 2,118 pounds during a giant vegetable contest at Frerichs Farm in Warren, Rhode Island, securing the title of world’s largest, reports Michelle R. Smith at the Associated Press.

While growing the massive vegetable is a significant feat in and of itself, it puts Jutras in a rarefied category. This is the third record he’s set for growing giant vegetables, making him the first producer to win the world’s largest title in three categories. In 2006, he grew the world’s longest gourd, a 10-foot, 6.5 inch wonder. And in 2007, he produced the world’s heaviest pumpkin a 1,689 pound beast. Both of those records have since been surpassed, but the green squash record will hopefully stand for a little while longer.

“Oh it was like — my feet weren't on the ground,” the 62-year-old mega-veg master tells Amy Held at NPR. “I've been chomping at the bit for this one.”

As Smith reports, Jutras came close to the record a few years ago, but his squash split, disqualifying it from competition. This year, after retiring from his work as a cabinet maker, he dedicated more time to the vegetable. Jutras started with a genetic advantage, getting some seed from 2016’s record-setting squash, Scott Holub’s 1844.5 pound monster grown in Oregon last year.

Held reports that Jutras was meticulous about his squash. First, he grew mustard on his squash patch, which acts as a natural fumigant. After that he added chicken manure then covered the soil with black plastic to cook off any weeds or disease pathogens. He then selected the strongest plant from the two-dozen seedlings he grew, transferring it to the prepared ground.

Jutras with his squash-asaurus. (Frerichs Farm)

By mid summer, the plant was growing a foot a day, reports Held. Jutras fed it 15 gallons of fertilizer daily and 150 gallons of water, covering it with a blanket at night. He also surrounded it with sand so he could detect any rodents that might try to gnaw on the prize produce. He even cut vacations short to tend to his mega-squash. “You have to keep your eye on details,” Jutras tells Held. "It's the little things you do through the course of a year that make a difference. You can't take any shortcuts."

For his efforts, reports Tom Mooney at The Providence Journal, Jutras has earned a green jacket to go along with the orange jacket he earned for his mammoth pumpkin.

The giant squash will meet its end at the New York Botanical Garden where it will be carved into an enormous jack-o-lantern. But Jutras tells Held he wants the seeds, just in case he tries to break the record once more. Then again, he might try his hand at the bushel gourd, reports Smith. The record for that portly produce stands at 279 pounds.

Editor's Note, November 2, 2017: This article originally stated the squash was on display at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. It is at the New York Botanical Garden.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.


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