Welcome to the Mesoamerican Ethnobotanical Database
The Mesoamerican Ethnobotanical database is a collaborative
ethnobotanical and archaeobotanical project between The Searle Herbarium
of the Field Museum of Natural History (FMNH) and the Department of
Anthropology at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU). Archaeologists,
botanists, ethnobotanists, and interested laypeople often recover parts of
flowers, seeds, and fruits in their research. As Miller (2011:9-10) noted, the
largest obstacle to advancing archaobotanical research in Central America is
the lack of “resources aiding identification (on-line and published reference
material and databases).” This website was created to address this
This website is a work in progress, and we are working toward
completion during 2014. We are grateful for the support given to our project
by the National Science Foundation Archaeology—Senior Research Program
(BCS-1321469), FMNH, and NEIU. Please send comments, identified errors,
and suggestions for improving this resource to email@example.com.
How to Cite this Database: "Hageman, Jon B., David J. Goldstein, Kelsey O. Nordine, Christine Niezgoda, and Joanna McCaffrey
2014 The Mesoamerican Ethnobotanical Database. Electronic Document,
http://emuweb.fieldmuseum.org/botany/search_mesoamerican.php, accessed MM/DD/YYYY. "
What is in the Mesoamerican Ethnobotanical Database?
In the non-industrialized world, relationships between social groups
were (and in some cases, continue to be) based not on money, but instead
often on the consumption of symbolically charged food items. We believe
that asymmetric power relations are decipherable by the presence of
particular plant remains in specific archaeological contexts. Additionally,
archaeobotanical samples help us to describe the local paleoecology and
reconstruct the cultural landscape of cultivated, tolerated, and wild plants.
With this catalog we rely upon one of the most comprehensive Neotropical
herbaria, the Searle Herbarium, to establish a baseline morphological reference resource
to identify archaeobotanical remains recovered by archaeologists working in
the Neotropical lowlands of the Maya area.
Over 1600 plant species with human utility have been identified and
documented in the Central American ethnobotanical literature (see
References Cited, below). Of these, about 250 are represented in existing
published sources (e.g., Lentz and Dickau 2005). The remaining species
comprised our list of species to include in this database.
We pulled voucher specimens
(plant samples mounted on 11x17
sheets of paper) from the Searle Herbarium originally collected in both dry
and rainy seasons (where possible), in addition to accounting for notable
variation in morphology, color, maturity, etc., and digitized them to
curatorial standards using FMNH equipment. In practice we have 1-4
examples of each species in an effort to characterize this seasonal and
developmental variation, as we do not know which parts of many of these
plants were used in antiquity and in what season they were collected or
harvested. Where possible, we also created high-resolution (1200 dpi) digital
closeup scans of woody plant parts and reproductive organs
—parts often used by people. In addition, we took
digital photographs (minimum 5 MP resolution) of seeds
(when available) using incident light microscopes on a 1 mm grid.
The Mesoamerican Ethnobotanical Database currently contains 2158 vouchers
representing 140 plant families. The most highly represented families are (in
descending order): Fabaceae, Asteraceae, Rubiaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Verbenaceae,
As our resource is based on where botanists collected their samples,
the vouchers represented in our work come from both highland and lowland
contexts. Most vouchers were originally collected in Mexico, Guatemala,
Belize, and Honduras. Some species were also obtained from El Salvador,
Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. A handful of species are represented by
vouchers from South America.
The inclusion of common names and uses from a variety of published
sources may help enhance ethnobotanical research in Central America.
Common names may help identify plant names in the epigraphic record, and
uses of plants form particular archaeological contexts may stimulate the
creation of new archaeobotanical research agendas in the region, such as
paleoethnomedicine or archaeoaesthetics. “Medicine” and “ornamental” are
two common uses for plants among ethnographically known populations, but
are not widely addressed in the archaeological literature.
Note that, for common names and uses, direct citations have the author’s name, publication date, and page number in parentheses, while such a reference that cites another work has that work represented in brackets. All references, whether directly consulted by us or cited by another author, are below. “BADEPY” refers to the Banco de datos Etnobotánicos de la Peninsula de Yucatán, cited by Arellano et al. (2003), and located in the herbarium of the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán.
- Anderson, Eugene F., José Cauich Canul, Arora Dzib, Salvador Flores Guido, Gerald Islebe, Felix Medina Tzuc, Odilón Sánchez Sánchez, Pastor Valdez Chale
2003 Those Who Bring the Flowers: Maya Ethnobotany in Quintana Roo, Mexico. ECOSUR, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
Andrews, Dorothy Heath de Zapata
1979 El libro del judío, o: Medicina doméstica: descripción de los nombres de las yerbas de
Yucatán y las enfermedades a que se aplican. Mérida, Yucatán, México.
Ankli, Anita, Michael Heinrich, Peter Bork, Lutz Wolfram, Peter Bauerfeind, Reto Brun, Cecile Schmid, Claudia Weiss, Regina Bruggisser, Jurg Gertsch, Michael Wasecha, and Otto Sticher
2002 Yucatec Mayan Medicinal Plants: Evaluation Based on Indigenous Uses. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 79:43-52.
Ankli, Anita, Otto Sticher, and Michael Heinrich
1999 Medical Ethnobotany of the Yucatec Maya: Healers’ Consensus as a Quantitative Criterion. Economic Botany 53:144-160.
1949 Plantas medicinales de Yucatan. Unedited manuscript. Mérida, Yucatán, México.
Arellano Rodriguez, J. A., J. S. Flores Guido, J. Tun Garrido, and M.M. Cruz Bojorquez
2003 Etnoflora Yucatanense: Nomenclatura, forma de vida, uso, manejo y distribución de
las especies vegetales de la Península de Yucatán. Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán,
Facultad de Medicina, Veterinaria, y Zootecnia, Fascículo 20. Mérida, Yucatán,
Arvigo, Rosita, and Balick, Michael J.
1988 Rainforest Remedies: One Hundred Healing Herbs of Belize. Lotus Press, Twin Lakes,
1993 Itza Maya Tropical Agro-forestry. Current Anthropology 3:633-700.
Balick, Michael J., Michael H. Nee, and Daniel E. Atha
2000 Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Belize, With Common Names and Uses. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden Vol. 85, The New York Botanical Garden Press, New York.
Barrera Marin, A., A. Barrera Vasquez, y R.M. Lopez Franco
1976 Nomenclatura etnobotanica maya: Una interpretacion taxonomica. Instituto
Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, Coleccion cientifica No. 36. México City,
Berlin, Brent, Dennis E. Breedlove, and Peter H. Raven
1974 Principles of Tzeltal Plant Classification: An Introduction to the Botanical
Ethnography of a Mayan-speaking People of Highland Chiapas. Academic Press, New
Breedlove, Dennis E. and Robert M. Laughlin
2000 The Flowering of Man: A Tzotzil Botany of Zinacantan. Smithsonian Institution
Press, Washington, DC.
Comerford, Simon C.
1996 Medicinal Plants of Two Mayan Healers from San Andres, Peten, Guatemala. Economic Botany 50:327-336.
Del Amo Rodriguez, S.
1979 Plantas medicinales del estado de Veracruz. lnstituto Nacional de lnvestigaciones
de Recursos Bióticos, Xalapa, Veracruz.
Duke, James A.
2009 Duke's Handbook of Medicinal Plants of Latin America. CRC Press, Boca Raton,
Kunow, Marianna A.
2003 Maya Medicine: Traditional Healing in Yucatan. University of New Mexico Press,
Lentz, David L., and Ruth Dickau
2005 Seeds of Central America and Southern Mexico: The Economic Species. Memoir of the New York Botanical Garden No. 91, New York, New York.
1969 Plantas medicinales de México, 5th ed. Ediciones Botas, México, D.F.
1979 Catálogo de nombres vulgares y científicos de plantas mexicanas. Fondo de Cultura
Económica, México, D.F.
Mendieta, Rosa Maria, and Silvia del Amo R.
1981 Plantas medicinales del estado de Yucatán. Compañía Editorial Continental-INIREB,
Miller, Naomi F.
2011 Archaeobotanical Methodology: Results of an Archaeobotany Questionnaire. The
SAA Archaeological Record 11(4):8-10.
Morehart, Christopher, David Lentz and Keith Prufer
2005 Wood of the Gods: The Ritual Use of Pine (Pinus spp.) by the Ancient Lowland Maya. Latin American Antiquity 16:255-274.
Morton, Julia F.
1981 Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America, Bahamas to Yucatan. Charles C. Thomas Company, Springfield, Illinois, USA.
1934 El libro del judío o medicina doméstica: Descripción de las virtudes de las yerbas medicinales de Yucatán. Facsimile edition, Mérida, Yucatán, México.
Rico-Gray, V., A. Chemas and S. Mandujano
1991 Uses of Tropical Deciduous Forest Species by the Yucatecan Maya. Agroforestry Systems 14:149-161.
Rico-Gray, Victor, and Jose G. Garcia-Franco
1991 The Maya and the Vegetation of the Yucatan Peninsula. Journal of Ethnobiology
Roys, Ralph L.
1931 The Ethno-botany of the Maya. Middle American Research Series, Publication 2. Tulane University, New Orleans.
Souza, Novelo N.
1942 Plantas medicinales. Unedited manuscript.
Standley, Paul C.
1930 Flora of Yucatan. Botanical Series Vol. 3 (3): 57-492. Field Museum of Natural
History, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Standley, Paul C., and Julian A. Steyermark
1958 Flora of Guatemala. Fieldiana, Bot. 24(1):1-478.
Williams, Louis O.
1981 The Useful Plants of Central America. Ceiba 24(1-2):1-342.
1940 The Chorti Indians of Guatemala. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.
Michael Trojan and Will Graham scanned voucher specimens and photographed seeds during the summer of 2010. Daniel Le photographed several vouchers, seeds, and fruits too large to fit in the Herbscan equipment, and was of invaluable help with the database preparation.
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