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  1. Maize is a cultigen of global economic importance, but when it first became a staple grain in the Americas, was unknown and contested. Here, we report direct isotopic dietary evidence from 52 radiocarbon-dated human skeletons from two remarkably well-preserved rock-shelter contexts in the Maya Mountains of Belize spanning the past 10,000 years. Individuals dating before ~4700 calendar years before present (cal B.P.) show no clear evidence for the consumption of maize. Evidence for substantial maize consumption (~30% of total diet) appears in some individuals between 4700 and 4000 cal B.P. Isotopic evidence after 4000 cal B.P. indicates that maize became a persistently used staple grain comparable in dietary significance to later maize agriculturalists in the region (>70% of total diet). These data provide the earliest definitive evidence for maize as a staple grain in the Americas.
  2. With very little known about preceramic occupations in Belize we present the chronology of a small rockshelter in southern Belize that has clear evidence of human activity extending back to the late Pleistocene. The shelter is located along the Rio Blanco valley less than 2 km from the site of Uxbenká. Data collected from four seasons of excavation indicate that the first humans began exploiting local resources, including freshwater snails (jute) by 10,500 BC and were drawn to the rockshelter by its location near fresh water and stone tool resources. Jute processing was a major part of the use of the shelter and continued likely through the Classic Period. Unfortunately, the upper levels of the archaic and Classic Maya period are mixed or were removed, possibly for the carbonate jute shells, likely during the occupation of Uxbenká.