Buried by a volcanic eruption 1,400 years ago, the manioc field was discovered under about 10 feet of ash, said University of Colorado-Boulder anthropology Professor Payson Sheets, director of excavations at the ancient village of Ceren since its discovery in 1978.
Considered the best-preserved ancient village in Latin America, Ceren's buildings, artifacts and landscape were frozen in time by the sudden eruption of the Loma Caldera volcano about A.D. 600.
The discovery marks the first time manioc cultivation has been discovered at an archaeological site anywhere in the Americas, said Sheets.
"We have long wondered what else the prehistoric Mayan people were growing and eating besides corn and beans, so finding this field was a jackpot of sorts for us," said Sheets. "Manioc's extraordinary productivity may help explain how the Classic Maya at huge sites like Tikal in Guatemala and Copan in Honduras supported such dense populations."
A podcast with Sheets commenting on the discovery can be heard at: http://www.colorado.edu/news/podcasts/.