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MAIZE Project - Archaeological History Detail

Teosinte and Primitive Maize

Primitive Maize
Primitive maize specimens recovered from early cave sites differ from most contemporary varieties of corn because the cobs are much smaller, contain fewer rows of kernels, and have fewer corn kernels per row. Some of the earliest maize specimens measured less than two inches long. These primitive specimens contain eight rows of kernels with six to nine kernels per row. These characteristics gradually change through time.

The wild progenitor of domestic maize is known as teosinte. Researchers did not always agree that teosinte was the wild ancestor of domestic maize-only after years of research are scientists beginning to concur. Isolating the wild progenitor of maize was difficult because several varieties of teosinte occur naturally in regions of Central America, particularly Mexico. Biogeographical research conducted in Mesoamerica by researchers such as John Doebley of the University of Minnesota identified the distribution of these teosinte varieties, allowing for subsequent genetic studies. Biochemical research indicates that Zea mays subsp. parviglumis is the variety of teosinte with the closest genetic similarity to domestic maize.