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Tree-Ring Reconstructed Maize Yield in Central Mexico: 1474-2001

Therrell, Matthew D., Stahle, David W., Diaz, Jose Villanueva, Oviedo, Eladio H. Cornejo, Cleaveland, Malcolm K.
Climatic change 2006 v.74 no.4 pp. 493-504
autumn, corn, crop prices, crop yield, crops, food availability, frost, growing season, growth rings, highlands, rain, staple foods, Mexico
Maize was domesticated more than 6,000 years ago in central Mexico, and remains a vital staple food and cultural symbol in Mesoamerica. Maize yield in the central highlands is strongly dependant on adequate rainfall early in the growing season (April-June) because late maturation of the crop may result in damage from autumn frost. Climate-induced crop failures with profound socioeconomic impacts have punctuated Mexican history. However, reliable records of maize harvest have not been available until very recently, and historical records of crop yield and price are discontinuous and can be difficult to interpret. We have developed a continuous, exactly dated, tree-ring reconstruction of maize yield variability in central Mexico from 1474 to 2001 that provides new insight into the history of climate and food availability in the heartland of the Mesoamerican cultural province. The reconstruction indicates that seven of the most severe agricultural crises in Mexican history occurred during decadal-scale episodes of reconstructed maize shortfalls.