Next time you sit at a movie theater snacking on a tub of popcorn, remember this: The ancient Peruvians snacked on the fluffy buffed corn thousands of years ago, according to research.
Archeologists with the Smithsonian pushed the date for the origin of popcorn back 1,000 years than previously calculated and before the ancient people had ceramic pottery, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers found cobs, husks and corn remnants in two mounds located in Peru's northern coast that dated back to 3,000 to 6,700 years ago.
The study gave a clearer picture of the early stages of how corn became domesticated and a staple crop of the Americas.
Corn was first domesticated in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago from a wild grass called teosinte, Dolores Piperno, curator of New World archaeology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and coauthor said in a statement.
Our results show that only a few thousand years later corn arrived in South America where its evolution into different varieties that are now common in the Andean region began, she said. This evidence further indicates that in many areas corn arrived before pots did and that early experimentation with corn as a food was not dependent on the presence of pottery.
The research group also included Tom Dillehay from Vanderbilt University and Duccio Bonavia from Peru's Academia Nacional de la Historia.
The group found microfossils of corn that suggested that 7,000 years ago, ancient Peruvians used corn as flour and even popcorn. However, the researchers noted that corn was not an important part of the Peruvian diet at that point.
These new and unique races of corn may have developed quickly in South America, where there was no chance that they would continue to be pollinated by wild teosinte, Piperno said.
Because there is so little data available from other places for this time period, the wealth of morphological information about the cobs and other corn remains at this early date is very important for understanding how corn became the crop we know today, she said.
Popcorn is formed from tiny explosions when the water in a corn kernel heats to around 240-260 degrees Celsius. See NASA's explanation here.