Book Reveals Diet of Pre-columbian People in Chile

The book “Chile: Plantas alimentarias prehispánicas” presents a compilation of 361 species that chronicles from the time and scientic research considers edible.

Imagen: Bioversity International

What plants did the native people eat? How was their diet? What rituals did they have in relation to food? Nutritionist Oriana Pardo and engineer José Luis Pizarro asked themselves these and other questions. After a meticulous research, the answers they found were written in the book “Chile: Plantas alimentarias prehispánicas” (“Chile: Pre-hispanic Food Plants”). It is based on chronicler’s writings, archaeological and ethnobotanical studies, on the semantic analysis of indigenous terms and customs still current in rural areas.

The book presents 361 descriptive entries of plants that are considered as food and eaten by the pre-hispanic people, which include the ones that had more than one use. The most comprehensive subsection is the one of fruits, which has 88 descriptions.

Oriana Pardo y José Luis Pizarro made what they call “food archaeology”, and after four published books jointly about the same topic, both of them state that the pre-hispanic people diet was far from poor. This was quite the contrary, since it was varied and tasty.

For example, sedentary lifestyle was one of the factors that influenced the creation of food conservation and trade techniques, which allowed them to improve and vary the people’s diet. “The Changos of the northern shore obtained wolf, fish and dehydrated seaweed oil, which were traded for inland products like corn, chile and coca leaves. The Atacameños were great merchants. With their Llama herds, they went up to the east slope of the mountain range, where they got coca leaves and other products,” the authors told to La Tercera newspaper.

Pardo y Pizarro highlight that certain current practices have their roots in ancient customs. The taste for sweets is one of them, although sugar did not exist back then. “Chañar and Algarrobo arrope was made using these tree’s fruits. Honey was also obtained from Chilean palm sap.” Among the kids, “the taste for sweet was seen because they knew flowers from which they could suck up nectar,” José Luis points out.

Besides being a registry of food species, the book seeks to raiseconsciousness about current edible species that are harvested in the wild and that could be lost due to the fact that their preservation is not guaranteed. This is why both authors make a call: “If you want to regain the usability of some of the species in danger, cultivation has to be the option in contrast to predatory extraction.”