Named “Las Capas,” the 4,000 year-old irrigation canal system covered more than 100 acres along the Santa Cruz River (west of the I-10 freeway at Ina Road). The irrig ation canal system was constructed to allow large scale cultivation of maize (corn). Its discovery pushed back the dates previously established for large scale agriculture in the U.S. by thousands of years.
Corn was first domesticated 9,000 years ago from a wild grass variety called teosinte in the Balsas River Valley near Mexico City. Tesinte only yields about nine kernals per ear, however, and is no where near the size of ancient or modern corn. It is currently believed that about 5,000 years ago, domesticated teosinte, that had previously reached South America, was further cross-bred and developed by farmers in western Bolivia and Brazil, into a much larger type of corn that was viable as a food staple. This new improved corn spread back from South America through Mexico and reached Marana, Arizona at least 4,000 years ago.
That is what we know as of today. Ongoing archaeology in Marana turns up new discoveries all of the time and continues to add to the story of early agriculture in the Americas.
You can learn about ancient foodways and taste delicious contemporary foods and beverages made with wild food ingredients on the Marana Gastronomy Tours.
Read more about the 10-year anniversary here.
Main photo image is a reconstruction of Las Capas by Rob Ciacciore for Desert Archaeology, Inc. Aerial image courtesy Desert Archaeology, Inc.