Searching for the Origins of Chili Peppers in the Americas: An Archaeological Perspective, a talk by Katie Chiou (University of Alabama)


Thursday, March 3, 2022, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


Tozzer 203, or via Zoom (register below)


ABSTRACT:     Chili peppers (Capsicum spp.) are one of the extremely rich and varied crop genetic resources of the Americas. The independent domestication of five chili pepper species (C. annuum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, and C. pubescens) across the Neotropics beginning around 10,000 BP was an intricate co-evolutionary process between these piquant plants and humans. As the predominant spice in pre-Columbian cuisines, an important medicinal ingredient in Indigenous pharmacopoeias, and a frequent participant in ancient rituals, prehispanic remains of chili pepper have been recovered from archaeological sites throughout North, Central, and South America. Beginning in AD 1492, while demographic collapse, forced relocation, and changes in land tenure disrupted existing agricultural practices in the New World, chilies traveled to Europe, Africa, and Asia via the Columbian Exchange, revolutionizing cuisines and impacting Capsicum genetic diversity in ways that we are only beginning to comprehend. 


In this talk, Dr. Chiou will present an overview of her past and present research on chili, highlighting the potential contributions of archaeobotanical and other lines of data to broader discussions on plant domestication and agrobiodiversity. Pulling from several case studies, Dr. Chiou will address the complexities surrounding the question of origins and change over time, highlighting stories of resilience and ingenuity in peoples’ interactions with this much beloved plant.


Dr. Katherine L. Chiou is an anthropological archaeologist and paleoethnobotanist whose research interests include foodways in the past and present, Andean archaeology, household archaeology, plant domestication, GIS and data visualization, and responsible conduct of research (RCR). Katie received her BA from New York University and her MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley and has been a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alabama since 2017 where she oversees the Ancient People and Plants Laboratory. She is a recipient of the Society for American Archaeology's Dissertation Award (2018) and the National Alumni Association's Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award (2021).

In addition to teaching and research, Katie works on the promotion of ethical cultures in archaeology and has been leading the organization of the Society for American Archaeology's Ethics Bowl competition as a member of the SAA Committee on Ethics (since 2017), revising the SAA Principles of Ethics as a member of SAA Task Force 3, and serving on the Register of Professional Archaeologists’ Ethics Committee (since 2020). Currently, Katie is organizing the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Institute of Andean Studies and the Wenner-Gren-funded workshop “Multiple Inequalities in Every Meal: Theorizing Intersectional Foodways, Past and Present".


On Campus Location:
Tozzer Anthropology building, Room 203
21 Divinity Avenue

& Online via Zoom
(Click Here to Register)


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