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Earth Notes: Hopi Corn

David Wallace
Arizona Republic

Recent genetic testing of Hopi corn is revealing insights about its evolution from varieties grown thousands of years ago, to the varieties grown by Hopi farmers today.

These studies were conducted as part of the “Pueblo Farming Project”, sponsored by Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, with the guidance of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office and Hopi farmers.

Results show that 12 varieties of Hopi corn maintain a close association with corn samples from southwestern archaeological sites that date to over 2,000 years before present. In addition, Hopi varieties have developed their own unique signature as the seed adapted to different environments, and due to selective cultivation practices of Hopi farmers, over thousands of generations.

The varieties currently grown by Hopi are dry-farmed, meaning that the fields are not irrigated.. Hopi corn relies only on the moisture stored from winter snowstorms and received during late summer monsoons. The plant itself has developed deep tap roots and is uniquely adapted to the sandy soils of Hopiland.

Hopi traditions state that their way of life would be characterized by three items: a bag of corn seed, a planting stick and a gourd of water. Simple technology with which to sustain themselves. Hopi farmers plant their fields by hand, and are taught to keep their rows straight, always looking ahead, but every so often you have to look back. The lesson being, you will never know where you are going, unless you understand where you have been.

This Earth Note was written by Lyle Balenquah and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.

Lyle Balenquah, Hopi, is a member of the Greasewood Clan from the Village of Paaqavi ("Reed Springs Place") on Third Mesa, located in northeastern Arizona. He currently works as an archaeologist, as well as a river and hiking guide across the Four Corners region. Through his work he advocates for the protection and preservation of ancestral landscapes, combining his professional training with personal experiences and insights about Hopi culture and history.
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