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Archaeologists have found evidence of a previously unknown civilisation that farmed a range of crops 4,000 years ago in Uruguay. The discovery is surprising as standard theories say that such societies should not be expected so far from the Andes mountain range.

In this article in Nature, Peter W. Stahl says that view is based in part on a flawed and outdated classification of native South American populations, which ranked as least developed those societies inhabiting so-called marginal areas — such as the grasslands in the south of the continent.

The research published in Nature last week by José Iriarte and colleagues shows, however, that permanent settlements existed 4,000 years ago at Los Ajos in the La Plata river basin. The people living there farmed maize, squash, beans and root crops. The discovery contradicts the standard theory that marginal areas were not suited to prehistoric agriculture, and that people living there had to rely on a nomadic, subsistence lifestyle.

Link to full article by Peter W. Stahl in Nature

Link to full paper by José Iriarte et al in Nature

Reference: Nature 432, 561 (2004) / Nature 432, 614 (2004)