Reinventing the Potato
by Ferris Jabr on modfarm

The relationship between potatoes and their human cultivators is long and tumultuous. The Inca’s ancestors first domesticated the wild potato between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago on the border of Peru and Bolivia. By 4,000 years ago, the potato had become a staple crop for native Andeans. The tuber was so integral to their culture that some groups based units of time on how long it took to cook various types.

Back then, the potato was synonymous with diversity. The Andeans inhabited a mountainous mosaic of microclimates in which one plot of land presented a very different set of growing conditions than its neighbor. No single variety could survive in such a heterogeneous landscape, so the Andeans diversified — to the extreme. Farming so many different types of potatoes also provided a more interesting and enjoyable diet, a tradition that is still alive today. “If you go to a typical Andean household,” explains Stef de Haan, a researcher at the International Potato Center in Lima, “they will eat what is called chajru, which means ‘mixture’ in the Quechua language. They sit around a big bowl of potatoes. And the joy of eating those, the culinary delight, is that every time you pick a potato, you pick a different one. In Quechua, especially when it comes to the taste of potatoes, they have this whole unique vocabulary — almost like somebody from France would tell you about the taste of wine.”

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#potatoes #indigenous #plant breeding #Andes #Peru #alpine #biodiversity
Oldest High-Altitude Human Settlement Discovered in Andes

The oldest-known evidence of humans living at extremely high altitudes has been unearthed in the Peruvian Andes, archaeologists say.

The sites — a rock shelter with traces of Ice Age campfires and rock art, and an open-air workshop with stone tools and fragments — are located nearly 14,700 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level and were occupied roughly 12,000 years ago.

The discovery, which is detailed today (Oct. 23) in the journal Science, suggests ancient people in South America were living at extremely high altitudes just 2,000 years after humans first reached the continent.

The findings also raise questions about how these early settlers physically adapted to sky-high living. Read more.