This image shows a variety of quinoa with all different colors.

Chavín Domestication of Quinoa and its Affects on Civilization

The Chavín civilization flourished in the vertically stratified terrain of present-day Peru. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Chavín experienced a shift from a mobile lifestyle to a more sedentary lifestyle for a dependable food supply. They domesticated crops, such as quinoa, which eventually had a broad distribution throughout the Andes. The ability of quinoa to withstand environmental stresses in extreme sites, from the highlands to the coast, contributed to the crop’s versatility. Consequently, domesticated quinoa has been the most influential crop in the viability of the Chavín civilization during the Early Horizon period.

A Brief History of the Chavín

The Chavín was a prehistoric culture residing in the Central Highlands of Peru during the Early Horizon Period. Their mastery of weaving, architecture, and use of metallurgy and hydraulic systems gives the Chavín recognition as the first highland civilization in Peru. The temple at Chavín de Huántar acted as a religious center of the culture while also revealing the artistic elements of the Chavín. Inscribed on the stones of the ancient temple is the iconography that also manifests in Chavinoid sculptures and pottery. Evidence of the emanation of the Chavín civilization lies within the translocation of art from the culture’s center at Chavín de Huántar.

This image shows the location of Chavín de Huántar on a map of Peru and Ecuador.
Chavín de Huántar is located near the central coast of Peru. But, it has an elevation of around 3180 meters above sea level. The sharp rise in elevation between the coast and highlands of Peru is responsible for the different ecozones that civilizations, such as the Chavín, took advantage of. Image source: khanacademy.org

Chavenoid art found outside of the highlands of Central Peru implies copious amounts of information about the Chavín. Aside from revealing the extent of the Chavín, the translocation of art insinuates the idea that the Chavín traded with different ecozones. Not only did this allow them to exploit distant natural resources, but it also supports the idea that the Chavín likely had a sophisticated political system after establishing settlements for subsistence agriculture.

This image shows a stone carved to depict a person found in the Chavin region.
This head carved into stone was one of the many carvings that were found in and around Chavín de Huántar. These carvings exhibit the advanced and complex art styles of the Chavín. Image source: britannica.com

Chavín Dependence Upon Quinoa Cultivation

The Chavín collectively depended on quinoa, even if they did not live in the regions that yielded the grain. Some groups occupied the Puna ecozone, which is the highest habitable elevation in the Andes. These individuals practiced pastoralism with domesticated camelids. Animal parts of camelids provide resources ranging from clothing and tools to food and fertilizers. Those living in every ecozone relied on quinoa as a food source. The grain can grow in altitudes from sea level to 4,000 meters above sea level. Outside the Puna, people used quinoa for trade and obtained pastoral outputs. Various intrinsic properties of the grain contributed to its opportune characteristics.

This image shows a variety of quinoa with all different colors.
Quinoa is genetically diverse and can be found in many different colors and sizes. These stalks of quinoa are from the same species. Image source: amazon.com

Environmental Factors Favoring the Cultivation of Quinoa

The Chavín faced the dynamic climate in and around the Andes. Yet, they successfully cultivated quinoa. The land surrounding Chavín de Huántar was more favorable for high-altitude crops and the grazing of llamas. Around 35.4% of Chavín land consisted of slopes, and 39% of the land was grasslands. Consequently, the cultivation of crops, such as maize, was unsuccessful. Quinoa is resistant to drought and is unaffected by lower temperatures, as it survives in temperatures between -4ºC and 38ºC. Quinoa also has halophytic properties that allow it to survive in high salinity and poor soils that range in pH. It may grow at a pH between 6.0 and 8.5. The area experiences precipitation during the summer months, from December to February.

This image shows the diverse landscape of Peru with grasslands in the foreground and mountainous regions in the background.
Peru has a very diverse landscape due to tectonic plate activity. As a result, mountainous regions are not far from the coast around the Andes. The close proximity of different ecozones allowed ancient civilizations to use different regions for different crops. Image source: adventure-life.com

Limited precipitation favors quinoa over other species of plants, as quinoa can survive in an environment that receives as little as 285 millimeters of precipitation during the growing season. Diverse weather conditions spawned different species of quinoa with a range of optimal growth conditions. The genetic diversity of quinoa is due to domestication.

Genetic Bottleneck of Quinoa

Quinoa first underwent a genetic bottleneck event before domestication. A genetic bottleneck is an event that drastically decreases the number of members in a population and reduces the population’s genetic diversity. It experienced a second when humans began inducing selection upon the crop. In addition, domestication also concentrated plants in one area. Stratigraphy samples sourced from Lake Huaypo and surrounding areas reveal the prevalence of quinoa by examining pollen remains. Proximal to the lake, archaeologists predict a less dynamic climate contrasting the rest of Peru which, experienced ephemeral aridity. Despite this difference, pollen illustrates that the population relied on quinoa during these times. Aridity even lies between periods of more wet climate conditions in Peru. Quinoa cultivation has prevailed during these periods, as indicated by pollen.

This image shows how the process of genetic bottleneck, which reduces the number of individuals in a population, also reduces the genetic diversity of the population.
“Genetic bottleneck” is a process that decreases the genetic diversity of a population. It usually occurs through a natural event that diminishes the natural population. Selection and breeding are other processes that limit the genetic diversity of a population. Image source: nps.gov

Impact of Quinoa on the Chavín

Organized Settlement Patterns due to the Domestication of Quinoa

Quinoa cultivation impacted the settlement patterns of the Chavín. Evidence of settlements made simultaneously as the temple at Chavín de Huántar, existed outside the Quechua region. Most hamlets, such as Pojoc and Waman Wain, reside above 3,200 meters in elevation. Their elevations were 3,850 meters and 3,500 meters, respectively. These high altitudes were unfavorable for the cultivation of maize. Therefore, these regions relied on high-altitude grains, such as quinoa.

This image shows how the Chavin influenced a large area outside of Chavin de Huantar, which spanned most of the coast of Peru and part of the coast of Ecuador.
Chavín de Huántar was the center of the Chavín culture. The influence of the culture spread north and south. It is likely that the culture spread due to successful trading, and the religious system that the Chavín had. The religious system was responsible for the social stratification in the civilization. Image source: khanacademy.org

Population Diffusion of the Chavín due to the Domestication of Quinoa

Aside from influencing the settlement patterns of the Chavín, quinoa has also prompted the southward and northward expansion of people from the Peruvian highlands. The ability of quinoa to adapt to different environments has allowed for buildout from Chavín de Huántar. Geographic isolation because of expansion eventually led to the dismantling of the Chavín by the end of the Early Horizon. But, the ubiquity of quinoa throughout the highlands and some coastal regions engendered the conditions for later, more widespread civilizations, such as the Wari.

Quinoa biodiversity and the presence of pollen in stratigraphy samples taken from different regions of Peru demonstrate the expansion of people and quinoa. Quinoa belongs to the Amaranthaceae family of plants, which shows a similar prevalence in Cuzco, Pacucha, and Maracacocha. The relative abundance of quinoa in Cuzco, Pacucha, and Maracacocha gradually declined between 4,000 YBP and 2,000 YBP. “YBP” refers to “years before present,” which is commonly used when archeologists use radiocarbon dating for artifacts. Quinoa cultivation persisted, despite the rise of maize cultivation around Chavín de Huántar towards the end of the Early Horizon.

This image shows how the structure of different quinoas is generally the same.
Quinoa comes in all different colors and sizes. However, many of the phenotypic elements of quinoa can vary from each other. Pollen from many quinoa species was considered in the stratigraphy of the areas surrounding Lake Huayapo. Image source: researchgate.net

Quinoa Cultivation and the Viability of the Chavín

The domestication of quinoa has affected settlement patterns, acted as a commodity in trade, and caused population diffusion out from Chavín de Huántar. The grain was paramount in the development of Chavín’s complex political system and way of life. Quinoa also introduced health benefits to individuals, in addition to organizing the social structure of the Chavín. Isotopic evidence and modern analyses of the grain reveal the extent to which it affected the population internally.

This image shows the ruins of the temple at Chavín de Huántar, which is still intact.
To this day, the ruins of the temple at Chavín de Huántar still remain intact. The survival of this massive structure for centuries indicates the complexity of its architecture, which parallels the complexity of the civilization as a whole. Successful cultivation of quinoa has allowed for the Chavín to flourish and establish a religion. Image source: news.standford.edu

Nutritional Content of Quinoa

This diagram shows how the content of ash, carbohydrates, proteins and lipids in quinoa, compare to that of white, wheat, rice, corn and barley.
Compared to rice, wheat, corn, oats, and barley, quinoa has a better nutrient content. Out of all of these crops, quinoa has the highest content of protein and fat. The quantity of carbohydrates in quinoa is similar to that of all the other grains, but the content of ash is not as high as the quantity of ash in corn for example. Image source: researchgate.net

Analysis of the Protein Content

The protein content of quinoa is relatively high. Around 37% of quinoa is chenopodin, a protein that supplies over 180% of the daily recommended intake of essential amino acids for adults. Accompanying chenopodin is lysine, another essential amino acid for human consumption. Compared to maize, the protein content of quinoa ranges between 10.2% and 13.4% more than that of maize. The content of lysine is twice as high in quinoa compared to maize.

 Analysis of the Carbohydrate Content

Quinoa contains carbohydrates and 10% of the recommended total dietary fiber recommended for intake. Fibers promote digestive health and reduce and modulate the body’s use of harmful substances in moderation. For example, fiver reduces cholesterol and lipid absorption. Cholesterol is converted to bile and supports the natural flora in the intestines. Those that consume the recommended daily amount of fiber are more likely to have a healthy intestinal microbiota. They reduce the risk of gastrointestinal infection and inflammation.

Analysis of the Lipid Content

The consumption of lipids in large quantities is known to have adverse health effects. However, lipid consumption in moderation allows for the absorption of necessary vitamins and minerals. The oil content of lipids ranges from 2% to 10%, where 89.4% is unsaturated fatty acids, and 54.2% to 58.3% is polyunsaturated fatty acids. Compared to maize, the oil content in lipids is just slightly higher.

Analysis of the Vitamin and Mineral Content

Quinoa is comprised of a multitude of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, and Vitamin E. It contains beta carotene, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B9. The vitamin content of quinoa is generally higher than that of other grains. In terms of mineral content, quinoa contains calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. These vitamins and minerals may act as cofactors, which aid in cellular metabolism.

This table shows how the quantity of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc in quinoa, compared to that of wheat, maize and rice.
Quinoa, maize, rice, and wheat all contain minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. The quantity of calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium is the highest in quinoa. The quantity of zinc and phosphorus is only second to wheat. Image source: fao.org

Isotopic Evidence

Evidence of quinoa’s status as a staple crop for the viability of the Chavín lies within the carbon of skeletal remains found around Chavín de Huántar. Burger and Van Der Merwe examined an infant (between 14 and 18 months old), a male between 20 and 35 years old, a male between 55 and 60 years old, and a female between 15 and 17 years old. With these remains, they used radiocarbon dating to identify the sources of carbon in bone collagen. They quantified the numerical measure of stable carbon isotopes (𝛿13C) in a ratio expressed in parts per million (‰). They traced the carbon back to either C3 plants (including quinoa) and C4 plants (including maize).

This image shows the minute differences between C3 plants and C4 plants, such as quinoa, in terms of metabolism.
In terms of the metabolic process of photosynthesis, there are not many differences between C3 plants and C4 plants, demonstrated by elm and corn, respectively. For C4 plants, carbon dioxide is transferred to mesophyll cells before it is inputted into the Calvin cycle as rubisco. For C3 plants, however, carbon dioxide is immediately converted to rubisco before being inputted into the Calvin cycle. Image source: ripe.illinois.edu

Method of Analysis

Isotopic data originated from samples subject to 2% hydrogen chloride solution, forcing decalcification. Collagen was extracted, treated with sodium hydroxide, and combusted to remove any excess carbon dioxide. Isotopic data found that 𝛿13C of C3 plants has a mean of 26.5 ‰, while the 𝛿13C of C4 plants average at 12.5 ‰. Thus, the consumption of C3 plant parts was significantly higher than the consumption of C4 plants during the period for which each individual lived.

Individuals were likely to consume quinoa more than maize. Additionally, samples taken from animals that lived in the same biome showed that the consumption of C3 plants was higher than the consumption of C4 plants. These animals, if they were domesticated, were likely fed domesticated C3 plants. When comparing the 𝛿13C of each specimen, the values were similar. The quantity of 𝛿13C ranged from -18.7 ‰ to -19 ‰, concerning C4 plants. Therefore, only 18% of carbon found in the keratin of these specimens originated from C4 sources. The bulk of the bone keratin originated from C3 sources, including tubers and quinoa (indicated by archaeological evidence).

Culture in Relation to Anthropology

The Chavín was Peru’s first highland civilization. Much of their success had to do with the domestication of quinoa. This crop coincided with evidence of trade for pastoral outputs and was a food source for the Chavín. Quinoa was subject to environmental and induced selection to manipulate the most versatile species. Consequently, quinoa had a beneficial impact on the Chavín, allowing for widespread cultivation and trade and settlement patterns. Unbeknownst to the Chavín, quinoa provided a myriad of health benefits. The countless nutrients likely led to the viability of the people, and therefore the civilization. Isotopic evidence further supports the paramount role quinoa played within the Chavín civilization.

This image shows the style of Chavin pottery, which includes elaborate depictions of animals
Chavínoid pottery. Image source: worldhistory.org

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