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Roads to the Past Preserving Signs of the PastWhere Are They NowAbout the ExhibitionEducational ResourcesHome The Path from Forager to Farmer

The transition to farming marks a significant milepost in New Mexico history. Maize, or corn (Zea mays), came to southern Arizona from Central America almost 4000 years ago. Although the earliest farming sites are yet to be discovered in New Mexico, highway archaeology investigations at the Wood Canyon and Forest Home sites in Grant County identified early agricultural settlements dating between 895 BC and AD 200.

Supported by a mixed farming, foraging, and hunting lifestyle, these villages of the Late Archaic period reflect the cultural changes produced by the transition to farming, including a more settled way of life and a greater investment in construc-tion of dwellings, storage pits, and mortuary facilities. The settlements also indicate a more diverse variety of tools and evidence of trading networks for marine shell, obsidian, and other goods that expand hundreds of miles.

Why Farm?

Early Southwestern maize produced small cobs with hard kernels. Archaic hunters and foragers probably added maize to their diets because it tasted good, produced ample surpluses which stored well, and reduced the risk of starvation during periods when game or wild plants could be scarce.

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Houses of the early farmers were typically small, oval or circular in plan, and built in shallow pits.

Maps of three house structures excavated at the Wood Canyon and Forest Home sites show remarkable persistence in the oval to circular floor plan and size of houses from at least 810 BC to AD 120.

The bell-shaped storage pits in the Wood Canyon site had an average storage capacity of 16,650 ears of maize each. Click to learn more.