Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Payson Sheets

Second Advisor

Gerardo Gutiérrez

Third Advisor

Arthur Joyce


While the possibility of root crops in ancient Maya diet had been suggested by scholars as early as the 1960s, serious consideration has only occurred since the recent discovery of a Classic period manioc field near the ancient village of Cerén in El Salvador. The discovery of such intensive manioc cultivation suggests that other root crops may also have been important components of Maya agriculture. The little-known root crop referred to as "malanga" (Xanthosoma violaceum) in modern Central America was uncovered in a household garden at Cerén in the 1970s, and subsequent analyses of malanga plant casts in 2011 resulted in a new understanding of how root crops may have been utilized by the ancient Maya. Through the use of ethnography, ethnohistory, iconography, and archaeology, I have compiled a summation of malanga's possible role(s) in ancient Maya agriculture, as well as how to continue research on the plant.