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Scientists Find 4000-Year-Old Corn

Unearth 500 Cobs in New Mexico Cavern


Graduate students Herbert Dick, of Albuquerque, and C. Earle Smith, of St. Petersburg, Florida, went to New Mexico last summer with the Peabody Museum expedition to locate traces of early American man in the Upper Gila River area. They didn't find what they were looking for. But the two University scientists did stumble across something which has puzzled botanists for four centuries. They discovered the missing link in the corn kingdom-cobs and pieces of corn that are both the oldest and most primitive known to modern man.

Found in Bat Cave

Bat Cave, a gloomy cavern on the shore of a long-vanished prehistoric lake, was the scene of the finding, which presents botanists with a treasure that has been the goal of scores of botanical expeditions. Two earlier groups from the University's Botanical Museum located varieties with primitive characteristics, but never found wild corn.

Last summer's discovery doesn't clear up the 4,000-year old puzzle, but it has been hailed by one of the country's top corn men as an important step toward its solution.


"It is possible," Professor Paul C. Mangolsdorf points out, "that the primitive corn found by the expedition, although probably not itself wild corn, is not far removed in its characteristics from the long-sought-for wild corn."

As a result of the finding, botanists are able to construct a picture of over 4,000 years of corn evolution, from the earliest type to the present day garden variety. This revelation permits scientists to gain valuable information about the proper breeding of corn, now an important object of botanical research.

Saved by Sequence

Only the evidence of an evolutionary sequence in the newly found specimens enabled examiners to verify their age since a majority of the cobs were extremely well preserved; almost 500 cobs were found usable for study purposes.

Before unearthing their discovery, the expedition, aided by students from the University of New Mexico, spent three months excavating the area, under the direction of John O. Brew, Director of the Peabody Museum. According to authorities the Bat Cave area was once the site of Indian hunting camps, several thousands years ago.

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