Archaeological Central American maize genomes suggest ancient gene flow from South America

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Abstract

Maize (Zea mays ssp. mays) domestication began in southwestern Mexico ∼9,000 calendar years before present (cal. BP) and humans dispersed this important grain to South America by at least 7,000 cal. BP as a partial domesticate. South America served as a secondary improvement center where the domestication syndrome became fixed and new lineages emerged in parallel with similar processes in Mesoamerica. Later, Indigenous cultivators carried a second major wave of maize southward from Mesoamerica, but it has been unclear until now whether the deeply divergent maize lineages underwent any subsequent gene flow between these regions. Here we report ancient maize genomes (2,300-1,900 cal. BP) from El Gigante rock shelter, Honduras, that are closely related to ancient and modern maize from South America. Our findings suggest that the second wave of maize brought into South America hybridized with long-established landraces from the first wave, and that some of the resulting newly admixed lineages were then reintroduced to Central America. Direct radiocarbon dates and cob morphological data from the rock shelter suggest that more productive maize varieties developed between 4,300 and 2,500 cal. BP. We hypothesize that the influx of maize from South America into Central America may have been an important source of genetic diversity as maize was becoming a staple grain in Central and Mesoamerica.

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Volume 117
Issue number 52
Pages 33124-33129
Available online
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