13. The ancient inhabitants of the Americas were among the first to domesticate a variety of plant and animal life, including maize, potatoes, and turkeys.
As succinctly detailed by Bruce Smith, three independent centers of domestication and agricultural origin have been identified in the Americas: the south-central Andes, Mexico, and eastern North America. Introduced by small groups of hunter-gatherers living in upland environments, who subsequently transitioned towards increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the earliest evidence of domesticates are dated to between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago; this would indicate that the emergence of agriculture in the Americas was roughly contemporaneous with similar transitions in the Near East and China, although more recent evidence has proposed a much more recent time period of between 5,500 to 4,000 years ago.
The indigenous peoples of eastern North America subsisted through the domestication of several known foodstuffs, notably squash, in addition to other crops such as tobacco; in stark contrast, natives of the Pacific Northwest utilized fire-stick farming in a manner similar to that used by the Aboriginals of Australia, wherein low-scale fires were applied to ensure desirable farming grounds were available. Of particular note, a system of companion planting known as the “Three Sisters” method was employed throughout early North American agriculture; this process involved the planting of three complimentary crops – namely winter squash, maize, and climbing beans. The maize served to provide a structure upon which the beans could climb, thus eliminating the need for gardening poles, whilst the beans provided in return nitrogen for other plants and the squash added mulch and eliminated the spread of weeds by blocking ground sunlight.
Comparatively, Incan agriculture comprised several alternative methods of early farming in the Americas and is characterized by a wide variety in produce; a “pristine” civilization – that is to say one that was not derivative of other civilizations – many of the crops grown by the Inca were similarly unique to the indigenous people. Farming in the adverse Andean terrain and climate, the Inca adapted to their surroundings through the innovative use of terrace farms or “Andenes”: built to maximize efficiency, these slopped steps allowed crops to be irrigated in hostile reaches by allowing natural runoffs of water. Among the products of the predominantly agricultural Inca civilization via such methods were potatoes and quinoa, estimated to have been farmed for almost 10,000 years in the region, as well as the domestication and farming of llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs approximately 5,500 years ago.