The Paleobiolinguistics of Domesticated Chili Pepper (Capsicum spp.)

Cecil H. Brown, Charles R. Clement, Patience Epps, Eike Luedeling, Søren Wichmann


Paleobiolinguistics employs the comparative method of historical linguistics to reconstruct the biodiversity known to human groups of the remote, unrecorded past. Comparison of words for biological species from languages of the same language family facilitates reconstruction of the biological vocabulary of the family’s ancient proto-language. This study uses paleobiolinguistics to establish where and when chili peppers (Capsicum spp.) developed significance for different prehistoric Native American groups. This entails mapping in both time and geographic space proto-languages for which words for chili pepper reconstruct. Maps show the broad distribution of Capsicum through Mesoamerica and South America mirroring its likely independent domestication in these regions. Proto-language dates indicate that human interest in chili pepper had developed in most of Latin America at least a millennium before a village-farming way of life became widespread.


Archaeobotany; Capsicum spp.; crop origins; historical linguistics; Native American Indians; paleobiolinguistics; plant domestication; plant genetics

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