Another Look at Barley
by Tyler Livingston on April 17th, 2010 plus a short comment by Dr. Joseph L. Allen
Since the discovery among the Hohokam archaeological sites in Arizona in 1983, it has been established that little barley (Hordeum pussilum) is native to the Americas. It was first discovered in the “Midwest during the Middle Archaic period, at two locationally close sites. The earliest record came from the Koster North site in central west Illinois, dating to 7,300 B.P. Hordeum pusillum also occurred at the Napoleon Hollow site, beginning at 6,800 B.P.” (1)
Archaeologists are now finding barley in several sites all over North America. Barley has now been discovered in archaeological sites in the following places: Arkansas (2), Iowa (3), Illinois (4), Missouri (5), North Carolina (6), Oklahoma (7), Wisconsin (8), and Mexico. (9) Since most scholars place Book of Mormon events in Central America, many of these sites and cultures would show that barley was native to the Americas, but outside of Book of Mormon parameters. However, since it is now being found in Mexico and the Southwest, it is becoming more likely that Book of Mormon cultures were in contact with cultures from the North, and may have possessed barley. The Hohokam who lived in Arizona, where domesticated barley was first found in 1983, are thought to have been in trade with those in “middle America”.
“As evidenced by an abundance of ball courts and platform mounds, cultures reigning far to the south clearly influenced the Hohokam. Thus it comes as no surprise to learn that middle America was the source for their principal crops: several varieties of corn, two kinds of squash, bottle gourds, and cotton…All these cultigens originally had worked their way north over time from places like the Valley of Mexico to the peoples of the Sonoran Desert, as had two kinds of grain amaranths and probably cultivated tobacco…they [the Hohokam] may have been the only culture to have cultivated little barley…Hohokam, like virtually all prehistoric dwellers of northern Mexico…” (10)
While the connection between Mesoamerica and Barley is not made (11), it would seem odd that trade of “principal crops” would take place without the trade of barley. Whether the trade came from Mesoamerica to Arizona, or the other way around, it would make sense that barley was part of the crop trade between the cultures. Why make a trade of major crops and not trade barley? They very well may have. But, because of the moisture content and acidity of the soil in Mesoamerica, it may be difficult to find “little barley” in archaeological digs in Central America.
However, the trade did not stop in Arizona. We have evidence of trade from Mesoamerica all the way up the Mississippi River. The Smithsonian states:
“The Maya forged strong political and commercial alliances with the civilizations of central Mexico. Through long-distance trade, luxury goods as well as pan-Mesoamerican beliefs eventually reached the Anasazi people of the American Southwest and Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi River…For a thousand years, Mesoamerican merchants traded ritual objects like macaw feathers and copper bells for precious turquoise mined by the Anasazi and Hohokam of the American Southwest…Social and religious ideas from Mesoamerica eventually reached Native American cultures east of the Mississippi River.” (12)
As shown previously, most of the cultures of the Midwest eventually cultivated little barley for food. And we now know that food was part of the trade between Mesoamerica and “Eastern North America”. A recent study tells us that
“Maize (Zea mays), the first Mesoamerican domesticate to reach ENA (Eastern North America), did not arrive [until] ≈200 B.C.” (13)
Again, how could there have been trade of crops between Mesoamerica and so many other cultures who used barley as a staple in their diet, and not have barley part of that trade, at least temporarily, among those people? (14)
1. Hunter, Andrea A. dissertation “Utilization of Hordeum pusillum (little barley) in the Midwest United States: Applying Rindos’ co-evolutionary model of domestication” University of Missouri-Columbia 1992, pg 138.
2. Ibid, pg 141
3. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology , “Terminal Archaic and Early Woodland plant use at the Gast Spring site (13LA152), southeast Iowa” Spring 1998 by Dunne, Michael T, Green, William, pg. 8
4. Nancy B. Asch and David L. Asch, “Archeobotany,” in Deer Track: A Late Woodland Village in the Mississippi Valley, ed. Charles R. McGimsey and Michael D. Conner (Kampsville, Ill.: Center for American Archeology, 1985), 44; see p. 78
5. Hunter, Andrea A. dissertation “Utilization of Hordeum pusillum (little barley) in the Midwest United States: Applying Rindos’ co-evolutionary model of domestication” University of Missouri-Columbia 1992, pg 173,
6. Scarry, John F. and C. Margaret Scarry 1997 Subsistence Remains from Prehistoric North Carolina Archaeological Sites. Research Laboratories of Archaeology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Electronic document last accessed May 15, 2009 at: http://www.arch.dcr.state.nc.us/subsist/subsis.htm
7. Nancy B. Asch and David L. Asch, “Archeobotany,” in Deer Track: A Late Woodland Village in the Mississippi Valley, ed. Charles R. McGimsey and Michael D. Conner (Kampsville, Ill.: Center for American Archeology, 1985), 44; see p. 78,
8. Hunter, Andrea A. dissertation “Utilization of Hordeum pusillum (little barley) in the Midwest United States: Applying Rindos’ co-evolutionary model of domestication” University of Missouri-Columbia 1992, pg 142]]]
9. “…extensive archaeological evidence also points to the cultivation of little barley in the Southwest and parts of Mexico.” Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology , “Terminal Archaic and Early Woodland plant use at the Gast Spring site (13LA152), southeast Iowa” Spring 1998 by Dunne, Michael T, Green, William, pg. 8,
10. William W. Dunmire, Gardens of New Spain: how Mediterranean plants and foods changed America, , (University of Texas Press, 2004 )pg. 62-63
11. This author is not accurate in saying the Hohokam is the only culture to have cultivated barley. See previous references.
12. “Unmasking the Maya: The Story of Sna Jtz’ibajom,” Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropology. On-line at http://anthropology.si.edu/maya/mayaprint.html (last accessed 30 May 2008).
13. Bruce D. Smith et. Al., Initial formation of an indigenous crop complex in eastern North America at 3800 B.P PNAS 2009 106:6561-6566
14. See also John L. Sorenson, “Mesoamericans in Pre-Columbian North America” in John W. Welch, Reexploring the Book ofMormon: The F.A.R.M.S. Updates (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book Company and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992), 218-220.
Dr. Joseph L. Allen, author of several books and countless articles on Book of Mormon geography, did a short review of a featured article: "Barley in the Book of Mormon" by George Potter which appeared in Potter's recent blog. George has done excellent work on the Arabian Lehi Trail and has published several books on that subject. The quote below is taken from an article written by George Potter who is an advocate of Peru (not Mesoamerica) as being the centralized location of Book of Mormon lands:
"Although barley is mentioned four times in the Book of Mormon, no evidence of barley cultivation has been found in the ruins of Mesoamerica, nor will there be, for barley is a temperate-climate grain native only to North and South America. However, place barley in the hands of Nephite farmers in the Andes of ancient Peru, and the
Book of Mormon is in complete harmony with historical fact."
His thesis that “barley is a temperate-climate grain native only to North and South America“ reveals a lack of knowledge of the climate of the highlands of Guatemala where they do raise both wheat and barley, the two grains mentioned in Mosiah 9:9. “Yea, we began to till the ground with all seeds, yea, even with all manner of seeds, with seeds of corn, and of wheat and barley . . . ”
As a child growing up in Grover, Utah, threshing time was both exciting and hard work. The farmers would go from place to place and the women would cook “enough food to feed the threshers.” As a result, it always intrigues me to travel through the beautiful Guatemala highlands in November and December during Guatemala’s
golden season. (Dr. Allen has led hundreds of tours through the Guatemalan Highlands in all seasons of the year).
Maya farmers still carry their bundles (shocks) of wheat and barley on their backs and pile them along side the road where an old fashioned threshing machine separates the grain from the straw (chaff). The straw is then used for mattresses. This land ranges in elevation from 8,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level.
So barley does grow in Mesoamerica in the same area where the Popol Vuh and the Lords of Totonicapan documents were written. These documents supply us with several important Book of Mormon themes.
1. The Pre-Columbian people in Guatemala knew how to write
2. They knew about the creation, flood and fall of man
3. Their forefathers came from across the sea, the confines of Babel
4. They are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
5. God gave them this land (see: Book of Mormon Geography: Implications of the Terms “This Land” by Ted Dee Stoddard [www.bmaf.org/articles/implications_this_land_promised_land__stoddard]
Moral of the story: The climate of the highlands of Mesoamerica is conducive to raising barley. Therefore, the statement by Potter that "no evidence of barley cultivation has been found in the ruins of Mesoamerica, nor will there be" should probably be taken with a grain of salt. (or barley)
Note: The above is not a treatise of barley in Mesoamerica at 200 BC. It is merely to point out that the climate of the highlands of Guatemala is suitable to raising barley.
Joseph L. Allen, PhD