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Ancient Mesoamerican engraving, National Museum of Anthropology of Mexico.


From Middle English corn, from Old English corn, from Proto-Germanic *kurną, from Proto-Indo-European *ǵr̥h₂nóm (“grain; worn-down”), from *ǵerh₂- (“grow old, mature”). Cognate with Dutch koren, German Low German Koorn, German Korn, Norwegian Bokmål korn, Norwegian Nynorsk korn and Swedish korn; see, Russian зерно́ (zernó), Czech zrno, Latin grānum, Lithuanian žirnis and English grain.

In a sense ‘maize’ is a shortening from earlier Indian corn

12000 – 7500 BC. The domestication of maize.

5600 BC. Corn was dispersed into lower Central America.

5000 – 4000 BC. Corn had moved into the inter-Andean valleys of Colombia.

1500 – 1200 BC. Indigenous Americans had learned to soak maize in alkali-water (the process now known as nixtamalization), made with ashes and lime (calcium oxide), which liberates the B-vitamin niacin, the lack of which was the underlying cause of the condition known as pellagra.

900 BC. Native Americans cleared large forest and grassland areas for the new crop.

1492. Spanish settlers consumed maize, and explorers and traders carried it back to Europe and introduced it to other countries. 

1930. Paul Mangelsdorf suggested that domesticated maize was the result of a hybridization event between unknown wild maize and a species of Tripsacum, a related genus. This theory about the origin of maize has been refuted by modern genetic testing, which refutes Mangelsdorf’s model.

1939. George Beadle demonstrated that the kernels of teosinte are readily “popped” for human consumption, like modern popcorn.

2004. John Doebley identified Zea mays ssp. parviglumis, native to the Balsas River valley in Mexico’s southwestern highlands, and also known as Balsas teosinte, as being the crop wild relative that is genetically most similar to modern maize.

2009. Archaeobotanical studies point to the middle part of the Balsas River valley as the likely location of early domestication; this river is not very long, so these locations are not very distant. 

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