Corn pollen as an archaeological tool

I can’t resist adding some botanical tidbits about corn, given that I am a professional researcher (Ph D) with a B. Sc. in botany.

Corn plants bloom in southern Ontario in mid-July. Corn pollen bears an uncanny resemblance to the Death Star (from Star Wars). It is also huge, as pollen grains for wind-pollinated plants go. Its large size means that most of it falls relatively close to where it is produced. Palynologists (people who study pollen) and archaeologists working together have used this information to locate First Nations archaeological sites in southern Ontario. Whenever they find corn pollen in the layers of soil deposited over time at the bottom of lakes they can infer that corn was being cultivated nearby, and when.

The Toronto-area expert on this subject is Jock McAndrews, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. His page has a list of archaeology-related articles, mostly related to Crawford Lake, such as:

McAndrewsJ.H. and C.L. Turton. 2007. Canada geese transported cultigen pollen grains to Crawford Lake from 14th and 15th century Iroquoian maize fields. Palynology 31:9-18.

Similar research is being done in Alabama. (The site also features a photo of a crushed fossil corn pollen grain).

Leave a Reply