Dissemination of American economic plants on precolumbian sea routes by Amerindians

Dr. Bruno Wolters

In the past, evidence of a dissemination of economic plants on sea routes by Amerindians since the beginning of the first millennium AD was already found in the Caribbean area. Since it has become obvious in the last decades that the early formative Indian cultures of western Ecuador (Valdivia culture and successors) had in many respects higher developed skills as compared to their contemporaries in Peru and Mesoamerica starting from about 4000 - 1200 BC, there is growing evidence that they influenced the cultural development in these areas by sea, due to coastal shipping.

An exchange between South America and Mesoamerica on these sea trade routes can be equally assumed for useful plants. The transfer of peanut (Arachis hypogaea), sweet manioc (varieties of Manihot esculenta), cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum and N.rusti-ca), great-grained corn (Zea mays) and cherimoya (Annona cherimola) by sea from Ecuador to Mesoamerica and Mexico as well as the dissemination of avocado pear (Persea americana), paprika (Capsicum annuum) and jimsonweed (Datura stramonium as a narcotic and a medicinal plant) in the opposite direction seem as plausible according to archaeological evidence as a corresponding exchange of these economic plants (with the exception of cacao) between Ecuador and Peru. Most of these data apply to the time of the Chorrera culture (1200 - 500 BC), which was certainly in contact with tradespeople of the Olmecs in Mesoamerica.