Guila Naquitz Cave

The Guila Naquitz cave is located in the highlands of Central America near present day Oaxaca, Mexico. Archaeological evidence from this site ranges from 8000-3500 BC making it one of the oldest sites with plant evidence on record. Some of the soil is mixed up in terms of time due to the burrowing of rodents. (1)

The earliest evidence of maize was found in the Guila Naquitz Cave around 8000-7000 BC. The maize pollen was discovered along with fragments of pepo squash and bottle gourds. There was additional evidence of maize cobs found dating to 4500-4000 BS. Fragments of squash and gourds from 8000-6000 BC had a lot of similarities to domestic squash. Although these types of evidence are generally associated with subsistence agriculture the population of Guila Naquitz were thought to be hunters and gatherers up until the Formative Period. (2)

According to Barker, logistical forms of hunting and gathering were formulated where hunter-gatherer populations would meet in the Oaxaca Valley during the rainy seasons. During this time of approximately June to September people would forage and plant squash and gourds in the yellow area of the map. When the dry season came in October, lasting through December, people would return to their prospective sites, denoted by the orange dots. At this time they would forage for a variety of nuts and hunt game. The green area of the map was especially arid and cold. Maguey was harvested by inhabitants of this area and was an important staple due to its hardiness. (3)


It is thought that the transition to agriculture in the Guila Naquitz Cave society and other societies in the Oaxaca Valley occurred during the Formative Period as a result of leaders competing to have the biggest feast with the best food. Other experts believe that although this may be an important driver in most societies, it was not the case in societies like the the Guila Naquitz. They theorize that due to the dry desert like conditions of the highlands, agriculture and consequently sedentary lifestyle resulted as an effort to ensure there would be enough food in spite of weather conditions in a form of risk management. Archaeologists like Hayden support the socio-economic theory while others like Barker support the survival theory. (4)


Barker, Graeme. Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory : Why Did Foragers Become Farmers?.
: Oxford University Press, . p 248-289