Farmers in the cold, high-altitude plateaus (altiplano) of Bolivia and Peru developed an ingenious method to preserve and store their crops. They freeze-dry them, taking advantage of the region’s warm winter days and freezing nights. Newly harvested potatoes are laid out on the ground, where they alternately freeze at night and dry in the sun during the day. Any remaining moisture is removed by trampling on the potatoes, which also removes their skins. The dehydrated potatoes or chuño can then be stored for years. Freeze-drying has a long history in the Andes that likely goes back several millennia. Early Spanish colonists described chuño preparation by the Inka in the 16th century AD. Highland farmers continue to prepare chuño. Museum curator Jeffrey Parsons acquired these samples at a grocery store in Cusco, Peru, in 1966.
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In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.