The Paleobiolinguistics of Domesticated Chili Pepper (Capsicum spp.)

  • Cecil H. Brown Northern Illinois University and University of West Florida
  • Charles R. Clement Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia,
  • Patience Epps University of Texas at Austin
  • Eike Luedeling World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
  • Søren Wichmann Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Keywords: Archaeobotany, Capsicum spp., crop origins, historical linguistics, Native American Indians, paleobiolinguistics, plant domestication, plant genetics


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.

Author Biographies

Cecil H. Brown, Northern Illinois University and University of West Florida

Cecil H. Brown is a linguistic anthropologist with
interests in ethnobiology, historical linguistics, and
Native American languages.

Charles R. Clement, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia,

Charles R. Clement is a geneticist studying the origin and
domestication of native Amazonian crops, and the
ethnobotany associated with anthropogenic soils and
other domesticated landscapes.

Patience Epps, University of Texas at Austin

Patience Epps is a linguist whose work investigates
lowland South American languages from historical,
typological, and descriptive perspectives.

Eike Luedeling, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)

Eike Luedeling is an agricultural scientist mainly concerned with projection of climate change impacts on
agricultural and natural ecosystems and with the
development of appropriate adaptation strategies.

Søren Wichmann, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Søren Wichmann specializes in quantitative methods in
historical linguistics and Mesoamerican languages. He is
General Editor of the journal Language Dynamics and Change.


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How to Cite
Brown, C. H., Clement, C. R., Epps, P., Luedeling, E., & Wichmann, S. (2013). The Paleobiolinguistics of Domesticated Chili Pepper (Capsicum spp.). Ethnobiology Letters, 4, 1-11.
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