History of maize

While land plants have existed on earth for nearly 500 million years, maize in the form that we are accustomed to today has only existed for approximately 6000 years. Scientists believe that maize is derived from an earlier ancestral plant called teosinte. Maize was domesticated in MesoAmerica, in the region that is now Mexico. Because it was nutritious, easy to store and carry, adapted to diverse growing conditions and provided food and fuel, maize became a staple food for most American and Caribbean cultures. After Europeans arrived in America they took it home with them and it spread around the world. Domesticated over the centuries, maize nourished the civilizations that became the mighty empires of the early Americas, including the Mayans, Incas, Aztecs and Anasazi. Treasured and worshipped, maize was the center of their world.

Fact: The grass family, including maize, have only been on Earth a relatively short period of time. So if you see pictures of dinosaurs eating grass — they are wrong!

Timeline of appearance on earth

  • Animals on the earth, 600 million years ago
  • Land plants, 500 million years ago
  • Flowering plants, 140 million years ago
  • Early humans (first species of the genus Homo), 2.5 million years ago
  • Modern-looking humans, (Homo sapiens) 200,000 years ago
  • Agriculture began 13,000 years ago in the Middle East
  • Agriculture began in North and South America 10-13,000 years ago
  • Maize cultivation in the Americas, 6000-10,000 years ago
  • Maize was carried back to Europe, 1500-1600s