Artifact Gallery - Corn

A dozen small, dried, corn cobs on display.
 

Corn, along with beans and squash was the mainstay of the Ancestral Pueblo diet. These corn cobs are over 800 years old. The corn grown in this region was mostly dry-farmed, meaning that fields were not irrigated, but depended on only the snow and rain that fell each year.

Growing Corn in a Dry Climate
Snow melt was important in the spring to keep the soil moist through the early season until the rains came later in the summer. Since a successful crop required sufficient precipitation from both seasons, if either fell short, the harvest was affected. So the Ancestral Pueblo people stored surplus dried corn in small, nearby granaries or within their communities to offset bad crop years. They also grew varieties of corn that adapted well to a drier climate. These drought-tolerant varieties tended to be smaller ears of corn, with small, hard kernels, sometimes tightly packed to reduce the amount of water lost through evaporation. The people also found ways to adapt to or manage the landscape to provide the best environment for their crops. Pueblo farmers dug into the soil about 12 inches down to where the soil was still moist from winter snowmelt. Then, they planted several kernels of corn in each hole. This was to ensure at least one healthy plant grew in that spot. It may have also provided a ring of protection around a single plant from hot, summer winds. In addition to fields, farmers also built check dams along drainages. These short walls slowed run-off of top soil during heavy summer rains. The walls trapped the moist soil behind them. The resulting "garden plot" was another great place to grow crops.

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Last updated: May 12, 2020

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