Miriam (Mimi) Fearn, Ph.D.
Department of Geology and Geography
(334) 460-6381 office
(334) 461-1487 fax
|Early corn pollen
in coastal Alabama:
||While counting pollen on a core from Lake
Shelby, Gulf State Park, Alabama, I found a grain of corn pollen. Corn
pollen is not unusual in modern sediments; however, this grain was in a
sample from 350 cm (11.5 feet) down core. The core was securely radiocarbon
dated, so we knew that the sediments at 350 cm were about 3500 years old!
According to the archaeological record, corn had not arrived in North America
at that time. In researching the record of corn pollen in the eastern United
States, I found that the microfossil record of corn pollen differs from
the archaeological record of visible corn remains. The following two papers
present the pollen case for an early arrival of corn in Alabama.
||SEM photo of fossil corn pollen from Lake
Shelby, Alabama. Dated 3500 B.P.
corn pollen include:
|Fearn, M.L. and Liu, K.B. 1995. Maize pollen
of 3500 B.P. from southern Alabama. American Antiquity 60(1): 109-117.
A large Gramineae pollen, positively identified as corn (Zea
mays), from the sediments of Lake Shelby in coastal Alabama at a stratigraphic
level securely dated to 3500 B.P. predates any other evidence for corn
in eastern North America by at least 1000 years. Currently, the most frequently
cited and accepted date for corn in eastern North America is approximately
1800 B.P. from macrobotanical remains; however, several paleoecological
studies have reported corn pollen in older contexts. The Lake Shelby pollen
adds to a growing body of microfossil evidence supporting the presence
of maize in eastern North America much earlier than the macrobotanical
records indicate. Corn was probably present in eastern as well as western
North America by 3000 B.P.
|Fearn, M.L. and Liu, K.B. 1997. Identification
of maize pollen: a reply to Eubanks. American Antiquity 62(1): 146-148.
Eubanks bases her identification of the fossil pollen grain
from Alabama as Tripsacum primarily on her calculated spinule density.
To make those calculations, she used only our published photograph and
she assumed a grain expansion of 35%. She ignores the fact that the spinule
density of the fossil pollen grain is actually the same as that of similarly
treated Zea mays pollen. While there is always the possibility of
a misidentification or of long distance transport, the most likely interpretation
remains that the 3500 B.P. pollen grain is Zea mays and that it
represents limited cultivation of ancient corn in southern Alabama.
|American Antiquity is published by
the Society for American Archaeology http://www.saa.org/index.html
|See also: Presentations
with Published Abstracts
|Mimi Fearn Home
of South Alabama
Last modified: 1/17/98