Remembering the Future: How Ancient Maya Agronomists Changed the Modern World

Remembering the Future: How Ancient Maya Agronomists Changed the Modern World

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Tobacco, the world’s favorite narcotic, has killed more people that all the wars and plagues in history. Tobacco accounts for the demise of 100 million people in the 20th century.

The tomato is the world’s favorite fruit. The delicious red fruit has a pedigree in Italy and in America was considered poisonous in until the 19th century.

A ripe, red tomato

A ripe, red tomato (Jeekc/ CC BY 2.0 )

Vanilla is the world’s favorite flavor. A member of the orchid family, vanilla flavoring is popular all over and created the legendary ‘nana pudding’ – a vanilla flavored custard in the southern United States.

Trade Brought Cultivars to the World, Creating Booms

In the  Columbian Exchange , Europe gained new sources of food and fiber. This great exchange between the New World and the Old World altered the history of our planet forever. Change included the great dying of Native Americans, the re-peopling of the western hemisphere by European immigrants, the worldwide improvement in food security, and significant historical changes.

The list of cultivars involved in the Great Exchange compares the totals of Afro-Eurasian cultivars with American cultivars but does not specify the contributions from specific areas. A break-out list presents an interesting overview of which areas contributed the most cultivars to the world.

The revised list of Afro-Eurasian contributions includes 16 indigenous plants from Asia, 11 from the Middle East, five from Africa, and only eight from Europe. Contributions of American cultivars listed in the Exchange include a total of 29 Maya cultivars, eight from North America and five from South America. An analysis indicates that the Maya contributed a superior selection of nutritious cultivars to the world when compared with the Old-World specimens.

Old World native plants. Clockwise, from top left: 1. Citrus; 2. Apple; 3. Banana; 4. Mango; 5. Onion; 6. Coffee; 7. Wheat; 8. Rice

Old World native plants. Clockwise, from top left: 1. Citrus; 2. Apple; 3. Banana; 4. Mango; 5. Onion; 6. Coffee; 7. Wheat; 8. Rice ( Public Domain )

Maya cultivars have combined to change how the world is nourished. The world population is currently over 7,000,000,000 and Maya Cultivars currently feed 60 percent of the world’s population. Cassava alone feeds 500,000,000 people daily!

17th c. painting of Cassava plant and tuber

17th c. painting of Cassava plant and tuber ( Public Domain )

The introduction of Maya cultivars induced a surge in world population. In the year 1500, the world population stood at 425 million. By 1600 it was at 545 million, reaching 610 million in 1700.

Thereafter, due to enhanced nutrition from Maya cultivars, population increased at a faster rate. By 1750 the population stood at 720 million; reaching one billion in 1810 and 1930 it was at two billion. The three-billion mark was passed in 1960, in 1980 it passed four billion, in 1990 the five billion mark was passed. In 2000 population passed six billion and 2010 saw the world at 7 billion population.

When Food is More Precious than Gold

The precious metals exploited by the Spanish conquistadors has long been considered the most valuable treasures taken from the New World. There were 5,640,000,000 ounces of silver and 43,000,000 ounces of gold of exploited during the conquest. Using modern-day prices of gold and silver, (with silver at $24.08 USD per ounce and gold prices $1200 USD per ounce), the total equals $187,000,000,000 U.S. dollars. Calculating the financial value of one year’s production of major Maya cultivars equals a total of $580,800,000,000 U.S. dollars. Therefore, the current worth of Maya cultivars per year is over three times the total value of all the precious metal taken from the New World!

The importance of Maya agronomic sciences has not been investigated and scholars have largely overlooked the impact that Maya cultivars have had on the history and the food security of the world. 

The philosophy of the Classic Maya was based on the thesis:  “Remember the future to anticipate the past”.  That philosophy is valid in the 21st century. When considering the earth’s future, it is important to remember the Maya philosophy and recall that the Maya civilization collapsed when they over-stripped their land and became vulnerable to environmental change. Maya cultivars are still changing the world.

Author, lecturer, award-winning structural engineer, and Archaeo-engineer James O’Kon has explored and researched Maya technology for forty years. He has combined his talents as a forensic engineer with archaeological field survey evidence to uncover the veil over the lost technology of the Maya. James is author of Corn, Cotton and Chocolate: The Lost Secrets of Maya Technology


A very impressive list! And most of these foods are really delicious. I mean... chocolate... Is there anything more delicious?! @addictive!

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