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Transforming the Spicy Tale of the Chile Pepper: Early Evidence of Capsicum spp. at the Preceramic Sites of Huaca Prieta and Paredones, Chicama Valley, Peru

Lecture: ARF Brownbag | October 10 | 12-1 p.m. | 101 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)

Christine Hastorf, Anthropology, UC Berkeley; Katherine Chiou, Anthropology, UC Berkeley

Archaeological Research Facility

The chile pepper (Capsicum spp.)—a plant that was independently domesticated in a series of locales including highland Bolivia, Peru, the Amazon, and Mexico—has a long history of cultivation and use in the central Andes of South America. The Capsicum genus consists of approximately 25 species, five of which represent domesticated taxa. Historically, botanists collaborating with archaeologists have relied on the identification of these species through fruit and vegetative morphology alone in cases of exemplary preservation. As a result, species-level identification of Capsicum seeds has remained undetermined. Our project presents a systematic procedure to identify Capsicum seeds. We adopt a morphometric approach to compare modern seeds to archaeological seeds recovered during excavations from a series of temporal phases at the Preceramic sites of Huaca Prieta and Paredones (8900-3500 BP) in the North Coast of Peru. Not only do we find that seed identification of Capsicum through attribute analysis is possible, our evidence suggests that the people who occupied Huaca Prieta and Paredones in the Preceramic period consumed various species of Capsicum early on before developing a particular taste for Capsicum baccatum in the Late Preceramic.

Katherine Chiou is a graduate student in Anthropology. Her dissertation work focuses on Moche foodways at the ritual site of San Jose de Moro and the household site of Cerro Chepen located in the North Coast of Peru.

Christine Hastorf is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley.