Archaeobotanical evidence supports indigenous cucurbit long-term use in the Mesoamerican Neotropics

Alejandra I. Domic, Amber M. VanDerwarker, Heather B. Thakar, Kenneth Hirth, José M. Capriles, Thomas K. Harper, Timothy E. Scheffler, Logan Kistler, Douglas James Kennett

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The squash family (Cucurbitaceae) contains some of the most important crops cultivated worldwide and has played an important ecological, economic, and cultural role for millennia. In the American tropics, squashes were among the first cultivated crop species, but little is known about how their domestication unfolded. Here, we employ direct radiocarbon dating and morphological analyses of desiccated cucurbit seeds, rinds, and stems from El Gigante Rockshelter in Honduras to reconstruct human practices of selection and cultivation of Lagenaria siceraria, Cucurbita pepo, and Cucurbita moschata. Direct radiocarbon dating indicates that humans started using Lagenaria and wild Cucurbita starting ~ 10,950 calendar years before present (cal B.P.), primarily as watertight vessels and possibly as cooking and drinking containers. A rind directly dated to 11,150–10,765 cal B.P. represents the oldest known bottle gourd in the Americas. Domesticated C. moschata subsequently appeared ~ 4035 cal B.P., followed by domesticated C. pepo ~ 2190 cal B.P. associated with increasing evidence for their use as food crops. Multivariate statistical analysis of seed size and shape show that the archaeological C. pepo assemblage exhibits significant variability, representing at least three varieties: one similar to present-day zucchini, another like present-day vegetable marrow, and a native cultivar without modern analogs. Our archaeobotanical data supports the hypothesis that Indigenous cucurbit use started in the Early Holocene, and that agricultural complexity during the Late Holocene involved selective breeding that encouraged crop diversification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10885
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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