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Avocado History

Domestication and History of Avocado

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Avocado fruit (Persea Americana) on tree

Avocado fruit (Persea Americana) on tree

B. Navez

Avocado (Persea americana) is one of the earliest fruits consumed in Mesoamerica. Its oldest evidence dates back almost 10,000 years ago in the Coxcatlan region of Puebla, central Mexico. From there, avocado was dispersed from North to South America and then to Europe and the rest of the World. Avocado is now among the most important and traded tropical fruit in the world, with Mexico as its major producer.

The avocado belongs to the Lauraceae family. Among the existing different varieties, the most widespread are the Mexican, the Guatemalan and the West Indian.

Archaeological Evidence of Avocado Consumption

The first archaeological evidence of human consumption of avocado comes from the Coxcatlán, Puebla and dates to 8000-7000 B.C. At this stage, human population were collecting wild avocados and consuming them after minimal processing. At this moment probably dates also the first selection of larger fruits.

Avocado Domestication

Archaeological evidence suggests that avocados were first domesticated around 5000 BC. Avocado seeds have been documented in Oaxaca state by around 1,200 BC.

Different Mesoamerican people such as the Mokaya of the Soconusco, the Olmec, and the Maya had domesticated avocado trees. This fruit was most likely an early and important trade item. Some archaeologists suggest that the avocado was exported from Mexico to Ecuador and northern Peru by the Valdivia culture of western Ecuador; whereas others suggest the opposite itinerary, that is the Valdivia people introduced this fruit into Middle America and Mexico.

At the time of the Spanish conquest, the avocado fruit was sold in the open markets held in Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco. Several Spanish colonial documents report that the Aztecs accepted avocados as tributes from subject regions where this plant was abundant. The Codex Mendoza gives us pictorial information about it. The word avocado derives from the Nahua (the language spoken by the Aztec), which called the tree ahoacaquahuitl; the Spanish called it aguacate.

An alternative hypothesis has been proposed for the avocado into South America. Some believe that avocado reached South America by trade with the populations living at the border between central and South America during the Formative period. Ethnobotanical remains from the site of Caral on the Peruvian coast, support the idea that avocado was domesticated there as early as 1200 B.C. 

Ancient Pictorial Representations of Avocado

An interesting image of avocado tree is represented on the sarcophagus of the famous Maya king Pakal the Great of Palenque. Along its sides the king ancestors are representing as sprouting from fruit trees among which cacao and avocado, to symbolize the importance of such plant in the Maya tropic.

Spread of Avocado around the World

Wide distribution of avocado followed the Spanish conquest. They probably distributed the plant in North American and Europe in the 16th century as well as in the West Indies in the 18th and 19th century.

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Plant Domestication, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Fedick, Scott L., 1995, Indigenous agriculture in the Americas, Journal of Archaeological Research Vol. 3, pp: 257–303.

Galindo-Tovar, Maria Elena, Amaury M. Arzate-fernandez, Nisao Ogata-Aguilar, and Ivonne Landero-Torres, 2007, The Avocado (Persea Americana, Lauraceae) Crop in Mesoaamerica: 10,000 Years of History, Harvard Papers in Botany, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 325–334.

Galindo-Tovar, Maria Elena, Nisao Ogata-Aguilar, Amaury M. Arzate-Fernandez, 2008, Some aspects of avocado (Persea americana Mill.) diversity and domestication in Mesoamerica, Genetic  Resource Crop Evolution, 55, pp: 441–450

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