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First Archaeological Identification of Nixtamalized Maize, from Two Pit Latrines at the Ancient Maya Site of San Bartolo, Guatemala

31 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2021 Last revised: 17 Jun 2022 Publication Status: Published

See all articles by Lauren M. Santini

Lauren M. Santini

SNA International

Sadie L. Weber

University of São Paulo (USP)

John M. Marston

Boston University

Astrid Runggaldier

The University of Texas at Austin

Abstract

This article presents the first direct archaeological evidence of nixtamalization, a chemical process that improves the nutritional value of maize, among the ancient Maya people of Guatemala. Analysis of microbotanical remains recovered from two chultunes, pits cut into bedrock, in a Late and Terminal Classic period residential group at the site of San Bartolo, Petén, Guatemala, provides the first archaeological recovery of maize starch spherulites, a unique byproduct of nixtamalization, and thus the earliest direct evidence of nixtamalization in the archaeological record. The presence of helminth eggs within the same contexts indicates that, at some point in their use life, the pits were used as latrines and as middens for the disposal of domestic refuse, likely including nejayote, wastewater from nixtamalization. These findings shed light on the daily lives of ancient Maya commoners and inform discussions of subsistence and waste management in Maya cities.

Keywords: starch spherulite, nixtamalization, nejayote, Maya, chultun, latrine, helminth

Suggested Citation

Santini, Lauren M. and Weber, Sadie L. and Marston, John M. and Runggaldier, Astrid, First Archaeological Identification of Nixtamalized Maize, from Two Pit Latrines at the Ancient Maya Site of San Bartolo, Guatemala. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3948399

Lauren M. Santini (Contact Author)

SNA International ( email )

United States

Sadie L. Weber

University of São Paulo (USP) ( email )

Rua Luciano Gualberto, 315
São Paulo, São Paulo 14800-901
Brazil

John M. Marston

Boston University ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

Astrid Runggaldier

The University of Texas at Austin ( email )

United States

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