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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The Maya were the longest-lived civilization in history. Their history lasted for 3,500 years and traced parallel time lines with other ancient civilizations. They began their civilization in 2500 BC in parallel with the ancient Sumerians and it terminated in 900 AD, during the reign of Emperor Charlemagne, but their histories did not converge because the Maya and other world civilizations did not realize that each other existed. The Maya were the phantoms of history.

Experts of Agronomy

They developed advanced sciences in astronomy, mathematics and one of the five original written languages in the world. They constructed grand high-rise cities replete with otherworldly art and architecture. But, their greatest science was agronomy. They were the greatest agronomists in world history. They developed cultivars that nourished the Maya people, enabling their rapid growth into a society of profound thinkers.

For more than 8000 years Maya agronomists created cultivars or plant varieties of unequaled quality by combining science with selective plant breeding. The goal was to develop cultivars that enhanced the lifestyle of their populace.

After the discovery of America, Spanish explorers encountered Maya cultivars and they adopted these, disseminating them across the world. The adoption of the unique cultivars by peoples in Afro-Eurasia altered history.

Maya Crops in Demand Around the Globe

In the 16th century, Maya cultivars were espoused by cultures across the globe. By 1530, tomatoes were growing in Italy; maize was an African crop by 1590; papayas were grown in Asia by 1530, tobacco in 1520 (and even turkeys in England by 1520). In 1550, Europeans introduced cassava and the peanut to tropical Southeast Asia and West Africa.

This exchange of cultivars, animals, and ideas become known as the  Columbian Exchange . Scholars believe that the ecological transformation set off by the Columbian Exchange was one of the events that established the modern world.

New World native plants. Clockwise, from top left: 1. Maize 2. Tomato 3. Potato 4. Vanilla 5. Pará rubber tree 6. Cacao 7. Tobacco

New World native plants. Clockwise, from top left: 1. Maize 2. Tomato 3. Potato 4. Vanilla 5. Pará rubber tree 6. Cacao 7. Tobacco. ( Public Domain )

The greatest lasting impact of the Columbian Exchange lies in the introduction of Maya cultivars to the rest of the world. World changing Maya cultivars include:

  • tobacco
  • cotton
  • turkeys
  • maize
  • sweet potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • peanuts
  • cassava
  • cacao
  • chicle
  • henequen
  • sunflower seeds
  • papaya
  • vanilla
  • chili peppers
  • beans
  • squash

These cultivars have made important changes to the food security of the entire world. As well, the introductions of new crops from the New World have had a dramatic impact on demographics.

Changing the World with Food

Maya cultivars affected politics, laws, customs, technology and financial empires. They have spurred armed revolutions, initiated rebellions, altered political boundaries, inspired industrial, technical and scientific revolutions, started college systems, promoted deadly habits, sparked sporting empires and changed cultural speech, music and lifestyles.

An overview that some Maya cultivars had in changing world history is truly amazing. Following are some of the important world changes resulting from cultivars invented by an ancient civilization:

The Chili pepper  has become the world’s most popular spice. Maya chilies made changes in the tastes of food around the world. What would Indian or Thai food be without chilies?

A collection of spicy chili peppers

A collection of spicy chili peppers (Takeaway/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Chocolate is a popular sweet world-wide and gifting chocolate has made this heathen cultivar into the favorite of Christian Holidays.

Maya cotton  is the world’s favorite fiber and has altered history; Initiating the Industrial revolution, starting the American Civil War and increased slavery. It inspired the land-grant college system (the sale of federally controlled land to fund educational institutions), turning the USA into a technological superpower. Cotton clothes 90 percent of the world’s population.

Maize is the world’s favorite grain and feeds billions of people each day. Maize effected significant changes in history including the food tastes of the world, the creation of a whiskey with both a pedigree and a gangster reputation and started NASCAR.

Maize in many diverse colors.

Maize in many diverse colors. ( Public Domain )

The peanut played a key role in electing America’s 39th president. It is a favorite in candies and PBJ sandwiches.  Peanuts is history’s most popular comic strip.

Attempts to grow the  pineapple in Europe resulted in the invention of technology for greenhouse systems that led to glass high-rise buildings in modern cities.


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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