View Dolores Piperno’s profile on LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional community. Dolores has 1 job listed on their profile. See the complete profile on. Dolores R. Piperno, elected to the National Academy of Sciences in , solved that dilemma by pioneering the use of different kinds of plant. Dolores Piperno of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panamá with expertise in: Archaeology. Read 4 publications, and contact Dolores Piperno on.
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Plants decay so quickly in the steamy warmth of the tropics that it is often fruitless for botanical archaeologists to search the soils there for the fossilized remains of the seeds and roots traditionally used in their work. Piperno, elected to the National Academy of Sciences insolved that dilemma by pioneering the use of different kinds of plant fossils. Her work with phytoliths and other microscopic remains shows that even plants in the tropics leave behind telltale signs of their presence thousands of years later.
Phytoliths, tiny inclusions of pipermo silica formed within plant cells that help to protect plants from herbivores, offer a window into agricultural and environmental history in the tropics and elsewhere 1 — 4.
The region is known as the possible origin of maize domestication approximately 9, years ago. Piperno’s work connects two passions she has had since childhood. The middle child of three, Piperno enjoyed reading science and history books and playing sports, such as golf, tennis, and softball.
Profile of Dolores R. Piperno
After graduation, she went to work as a research technician for Dr. I learned some valuable lessons and skills during that 5-year period, including the importance of good microscopy work. ByPiperno wanted to expand her horizons and responsibilities. She decided to return to her interest in prehistory and biology by pursuing graduate studies in anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Dolores Piperno – Google Scholar Citations
There, she joined the laboratory of Anthony Ranere, a tropical forest archaeologist who had worked extensively in Panama. By that point I knew that I was interested in focusing on archaeobotany, and that summer in Panama I got hooked on the tropics.
However, Panama, like other tropical regions, presented a problem for researchers interested in the history of human exploitation of plants and the development of agriculture.
Plant remains that are visible to the naked eye simply do not survive long dolorez tropical soils, where the warmth and humidity cause rapid decay. Therefore, although tropical forests contain the richest diversity of useful plants and many major American pipernl like manioc and sweet potato were obviously tropical, anthropologists did not generally consider tropical forests as a place where ancient agriculture originated.
For her master’s thesis, she decided to look for something that would fit the bill. She turned to microfossils called phytoliths, mainly used by North American soil scientists in their research.
Phytoliths are tiny, intricately shaped pieces of silica that many species pipdrno plants produce and that, because of their mineralized nature, could survive intact in many kinds of sedimentary environments over long periods of time. Piperno wanted to see if she could use phytoliths to discover the kinds of plants people ate in central Panama at the Aguadulce Piperrno Shelter, which Ranere excavated.
For her dissertation research, Piperno explored in detail the potential of using phytolith analysis in tropical archaeobotany by examining Panamanian archaeological sites of different ages that had been excavated by Ranere and STRI scientist Richard Cooke. Her simultaneous studies of phytoliths in a wide range of modern tropical plants allowed her to assess the characteristics and utility of phytolith formation.
In her doctoral thesis, Piperno showed that phytoliths commonly occurred in diagnostic shapes in many kinds of plants, including important tree and herbaceous flora, and that they were present in high numbers in archaeological sediments.
When Piperno received her Ph. Nevertheless, the phytolith pipfrno that contradicted these ingrained views grew, and it appeared doloes important crops like dolors had been dispersed to, and grown in, Panama during the Pipdrno era 7, years ago 6 — 8. For her second postdoctoral fellowship, funded by the National Science Foundation Program in Environmental Biology, Piperno began to carry out more detailed studies of phytoliths in lakes and other kinds of paleoecological contexts.
She compared and contrasted phytolith data with pollen and other records from the sites. To their surprise, they found 6,year-old phytoliths and pollen from maize along with evidence of significant forest disturbance by humans. This finding provided independent evidence of a significant pre-Columbian human do,ores in a place where no archaeological research had been carried out and that now looked like pristine forest 10 Piperno also found that using pollen, phytolith, and charcoal dollores in tandem generated more robust environmental histories.
InPiperno published the first book on using phytolith analysis for research in archaeology and environmental history Now Acting Undersecretary for Science at the Smithsonian Institution, Rubinoff encouraged his scientists to take risks and push the envelope, recalls Piperno. In solores late s and early s, Piperno continued her collaboration with Bush and Colinvaux with more work on sediment cores from lakes. Laguna La Yeguada, strategically located near the archaeological sites that formed the basis of her phytolith work, provided a fruitful place to look for evidence of past climate change and human impacts on the doloes.
The lake turned out to be 14, years old, which was old enough to also study ice-age climate and vegetation and the environmental changes that marked the end of the Pleistocene and transition to the Holocene in the lowland tropics 13 — In the core sediments, Doloees and her colleagues found dolorex and pollen evidence of significant forest modification from humans practicing slash-and-burn cultivation starting 7, years ago.
This date coincided with the first appearance of maize phytoliths and pollen in the nearby archaeological sites. Because maize did not originate in Pipermo, but in Mexico, the data indicated that an even earlier domestication of maize occurred. The data indicated that the human population density there was higher than previously assumed and was supported by earlier rolores more sophisticated systems of agriculture than had been imagined.
In the early s, Piperno further expanded the geographic and taxonomic scope of phytolith investigations. With another phytolith researcher, Deborah Pearsall from the University of Missouri Columbia, MOPiperno set out to explore for the first pipefno the wild ancestors of crops like maize and major plants from the Old World, such as rice, so that the plants could be studied in their areas of origin InPiperno dolres Pearsall published The Origins of Agriculture in the Lowland Neotropics 17in which they summarized the evidence collected over the last two colores for plant domestication and past natural and human impacts on tropical forest.
The book included data from molecular biologists who in the s had become involved in issues surrounding plant domestication and were studying the genetic differences between wild plants and domesticated crops to identify the crops’ ancestors.
Thus, Piperno explains, even where there was not yet archaeological evidence of the early stages of domestication and crop dispersals, as with major root crops like manioc, the ecological and molecular evidence gave considerable insight into where these processes occurred. Piperno and Pearsall 17 tied all of the research lines together and made the case that lowland tropical forests were major and independent centers of domestication. Piperno is proud of the work.
By the late s, Piperno felt that she had a grip on the early cultivation and dispersals of maize and other seed crops, such as squashes, in Panama and northern South America. But she had no data on the major root crops that were native to the tropical forest, such as manioc and yams. Pipernk plants did not produce identifiable phytoliths and could not easily be traced through their pollen. To fill this gap, Piperno explored a new direction in tropical research called starch grain analysis.
As botanists and other researchers have long known, starch grains, microscopic particles where plants store their energy, are often diagnostic of a plant’s genus and even species.
The big question was whether the grains could survive in tropical environments. She dolors STRI’s Irene Holst analyzed 5, to 7,year-old stone tools from the Aguadulce Shelter and found starch grains that appeared to be from manioc, maize, yams, and arrowroot Piperno and Ranere went back to the Aguadulce Rock Shelter in and reexcavated it, recovering more stone tools and retrieving sediments that were closely associated with the tools that could serve as control samples.
They also examined modern starch grains from a much larger set of economic plants so that they could be more sure of the archaeological starch grain identifictions. The results verified the first set of starch data, providing evidence for an early use of manioc and yams, and corroborated previous phytolith data for maize Since then, Piperno and her colleagues have continued to develop starch grain analysis.
She recently isolated wild barley starch grains from a 20,year-old stone-grinding tool from Israel For the past 7 years, Piperno and her team dolorres tackled the long-debated question of where and when maize was domesticated. In the s, John Doebley and his team from the University of Wisconsin Madison, WI produced molecular evidence showing that the tropical Central Balsas watershed of Mexico, a not arid, high elevation region, was probably the cradle of maize domestication Few researchers, however, had undertaken archaeological or paleoecological work there, says Piperno.
Pipegno remedy that, Piperno and dlores colleagues have been studying lakes and archaeological sites in the region 5. Core samples they have taken from three lakes and a large swamp showed that the oldest of these sites is approximately 14, years old.
Combining studies of climate, vegetation, and land-use history with archaeological work, Piperno and her colleagues have developed a picture of human occupation together with the agricultural and environmental history of the region.
Their analyses of phytoliths and pollen from the lake cores found the same kinds of environmental shifts as in other regions of dolorex lowland tropics, with a rapid and marked transition to the present warmer, wetter climate taking place at the end of the Ice Age approximately 10, years ago 5.
Dolores Piperno | Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
The evidence also shows that the lakes became foci of early human activity and that farmers were clearing the forests in the lakes’ watersheds more than 6, years ago. Piperno sampled sediments from the lake edges specifically because she thought that people would have used these fertile areas.
Indeed, they found phytoliths from maize and a domesticated species of squash in these areas that are probably at least 8, years old 5.
Her Inaugural Article 5 focuses on the microfossil evidence from the lakes. She will present archaeological evidence on early agriculture from sites near the lakes in a forthcoming paper. In the next 10 years, Piperno would like to extend the utility of phytoliths, she says.
Specifically, because the microfossils entrap the contents of cells when they form, she is hoping to find ancient DNA inside them. Meanwhile, she published a new edition of her phytolith book last year, in which she reviewed the present state of knowledge about the discipline and the growth of the field since 3.
Piperno says she has enjoyed watching as phytoliths are applied in archaeology and paleobotany around the world.
She also plans to work more with starch grain analysis, continuing to develop it by investigating the microfossils in a variety of plants and ancient sites and determining more precisely what processes or conditions preserve or destroy the grains, because some have even been found in residues from ceramics used for cooking.
In addition, Piperno plans another long-term collaboration with Mark Bush to study paleoecological records from the Amazon Basin and to determine past human impacts on biodiversity and forest structure there.
She spends much of her free time with her year-old daughter, Jenny, who, Piperno says, is proud of her mom’s success.
Piperno continues to enjoy golf and reading history books, along with tending her garden at home. This is a Profile of a recently elected member of the National Academy of Sciences to accompany the member’s Inaugural Article on page National Center for Biotechnology InformationU. Published online Jul DavisFreelance Science Writer. Copyright and License information Disclaimer.
Combining Two Fields in the Field Piperno’s work connects two passions she has had since childhood. Open in a separate window. Another Use for Phytoliths For her second postdoctoral fellowship, funded by the National Science Foundation Program in Environmental Biology, Piperno began to carry out more detailed studies of phytoliths in lakes and other kinds of paleoecological contexts. Another Surprising Tool By the late s, Piperno felt that she had a grip on the early cultivation and dispersals of maize and other seed crops, such as squashes, in Panama and northern South America.
Investigating the Cradle of Maize For the past 7 years, Piperno and her team have tackled the long-debated question of where and when maize was domesticated. Footnotes This is a Profile of a recently elected member of the National Academy of Sciences to accompany the member’s Inaugural Article on page A Comprehensive Guide for Archaeologists and Paleoecologists.
Missouri Botanical Garden Press; An Archaeological and Geological Perspective. The Origins of Agriculture in the Lowland Neotropics. Piperno DR, Holst I. Support Center Support Center.