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Tisquantum (January 1, 1585 – November 30, 1622), also known as Squanto, was the Native American who assisted the Pilgrims after their first winter in the New World and was integral to their survival.

In an unreferenced piece Wikipedia says: "It is a commonly held belief that he helped them recover from an extremely hard first winter by teaching them the native method of maize cultivation. This story claimed a method that utilized local fish (menhaden) to fertilize crops. He is commonly thought to have taught the colonists how to catch the menhaden necessary to fertilize maize in the native fashion along with the methods by which they could catch eels and other local wildlife for food."

Even if I'm not a horticulturist, after reading the piece above, just because it is not directly referenced, two questions arose to my mind:

1) Did Indians of North America really use fish as fertilizer?

2) If the answer to 1) is no, by who Squanto have learned that horticultural technique?

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This might be a better fit for Skeptics. –  American Luke Jun 29 '13 at 20:48

1 Answer 1

I was very skeptical, since you didn't cite any reason to doubt the claim, but a paper by Dr. Lynn Ceci supports your skepticism:

The belief that the use of fish fertilizers originated among North American Indians, and was communicated as such by Squanto to the Plymouth settlers, has achieved the status of folklore and is therefore difficult to challenge. However, examination of the documentary evidence of Squanto's history and of native cultivation practices, and a cultural analysis of the implications of the use of fish fertilizer, have produced complementary lines of evidence. This evidence indicates that widely held beliefs about the "manner of the Indians" should be revised: Squanto's advice at Plymouth is probably best viewed as an interesting example of culture contact, one in which a native "culture-bearer" conveyed a technological idea from one group of Europeans to another.

Source: Fish Fertilizer: A Native North American Practice? Science Magine, 1975

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If I enter your question in google and the answer is one of the first five results to pop up, that's a trivial google search. That said, I agree that your introduction supports the kind of site I want more than mine did. –  Mark C. Wallace Jun 25 '13 at 14:20

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