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Over many millennia, farmers across the world have domesticated literally thousands of species and developed tens of thousands of varieties of these plants. Despite the astonishing agricultural diversity that existed long ago, the world's current food base has narrowed to a dangerous level. By studying the long and dynamic history of farming in the ancient past, archaeology can play a part in helping ensure the stability of the human food supply by identifying once-important crops and showing where and how such crops were grown in the past. Thanks to New Lives for Ancient and Extinct Crops, extinct crops might even be redomesticated from their wild progenitors.
New Lives for Ancient and Extinct Crops profiles nine plant species that were important contributors to human diets and had medicinal uses in antiquity: maygrass, chenopod, marshelder, agave, little barley, chia, arrowroot, little millet, and bitter vetch. Each chapter is written by a well-known scholar, who illustrates the global value of the ancient crop record to inform the present. From eastern and western North America, Mesoamerica, South America, western Asia, and south-central Asia, the contributors provide examples of the unexpected wealth of information available in the archaeological record about ancient and extinct crops.
Paul E. Minnis is a professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. Minnis's books include Biodiversity and Native America, Social Adaption to Food Stress, Ethnobotany: A Reader, The Neighbors of Casas Grandes: Excavating Medio Period Communities of Northwestern Chihuahua, Casas Grandes and Its Hinterland: Prehistoric Regional Organization in Northwest Mexico, People and Plants in Ancient Western North America, and People and Plants in Ancient Eastern North America, among others.
"One could not find a more qualified list of contributors for the plants discussed in this volume."
"This volume represents an exciting new vista for archaeobotanists, including an implied challenge to other specialists to think about the modern applications of their scholarship."
– American Antiquity
"This is the first time that a collection like this, with its unique focus on 'lost crops,' has been brought together in this format. I can't think of a better cast of experts to write on these plants."
– Catherine S. Fowler, co-compiler of Northern Paiute–Bannock Dictionary
"I do not know of any book that does what New Lives for Ancient and Extinct Crops does. Each of the authors summarizes the ethnobotany and archaeology of each plant from the perspective of how it could contribute to solving or ameliorating problems created by contemporary agricultural practices in the Americas, Europe, and Asia."
– Patty Jo Watson, co-author of The Origins of Agriculture: An International Perspective