2009 - Volume 7 : Ethnobotany Research and Applications

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    Bananas and Plantains in Africa: Re-interpreting the linguistic evidence
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2009) Blench, Roger
    Phytolith evidence for early domesticated bananas in Cameroun supports a conclusion reached previously from a combination of botanical and linguistic evidence, namely that plantains reached West Africa, presumably from Southeast Asia, at an early period. Botanical evidence suggests that the plantains (AAB) are the most credible early domesticates and that their African center of diversity is in the zone from southeastern Nigeria to Gabon. The mechanism by which the plantain reached this region is much disputed. The paper will argue the following: • Plantains arrived in West Africa earlier than 3000 B.P. along with taro and water-yam. Cultivation of these crops made possible the effective exploitation of the dense equatorial rain-forest. • The most prominent reconstructible term for plantain, #ko[n]do, occurs across the zone where the greatest degree of somatic variation is found. • The introduction of the plantain can also be linked with the distribution of typical artefacts made from banana-stems.
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    Early Bananas in Africa: The state of the art
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2009) Neumann, Katharina ; Hildebrand, Elisabeth
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    Banana Cultivation in South Asia and East Asia: A review of the evidence from archaeology and linguistics
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2009) Fuller, Dorian Q. ; Madella, Marco
    South Asia provides evidence for introduced banana cultivars that are surprisingly early in the Indus Valley but late elsewhere in India. Although phytolith data are still limited, systematic samples from fourteen sites in six regions suggest an absence of bananas from most of Neolithic/Chalcolithic South Asia, but presence in part of the Indus valley. Evidence from textual sources and historical linguistics from South Asia and from China suggest the major diffusion of banana cultivars was in the later Iron Age or early historic period, c. 2000 years ago. Nevertheless Harappan period phytolith evidence from Kot Diji, suggests some cultivation by the late third or early second millennium B.C., and the environmental context implies hybridization with Musa balbisiana Colla had already occurred. Evidence of wild banana seeds from an early Holocene site in Sri Lanka probably attests to traditions of utilisation of M. balbisiana, a plausible area for hybridization with cultivated Musa acuminata Colla bananas, perhaps already being moved by the later third millennium B.C. Hybridization here, and/or in the New Guinea area now seems more plausible than hybridization in northern Southeast Asia (from Burma through Eastern India) as Simmonds had hypothesized.
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    Banana (Musa spp.) Domestication in the Asia- Pacific Region: Linguistic and archaeobotanical perspectives
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2009) Donohue, Mark ; Denham, Tim
    An examination of linguistic terms for ‘banana’ within Island Southeast Asia and Melanesia sheds light on the history of Musa spp. domestication. Linguistic investigations suggest a westward dispersal of banana from New Guinea, mixing with a Philippine variety (or at least sphere of cultural usage), then westward again to mainland Southeast Asia, and (as far as can be linguistically inferred) onward to the western edge of South Asia. The linguisticallyderived interpretation accords generally with the archaeobotanical evidence and botanical models for the dispersal of banana cultivars.
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    Impressions of Banana Pseudostem in Iron Slag from Eastern Africa
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2009) Iles, Louise
    The use of banana plants in the historical iron production industries of several pre-colonial kingdoms of southern and western Uganda has been documented by the presence of banana pseudostem impressions preserved in slag, a waste product of smelting. An investigation into the selection and use of plants within these technologies was undertaken in 2003 in southern Uganda, implementing a new methodology to record the archaeobotanical information contained within the slag. Non-destructive casts of plant impressions were made on-site using a polyvinylsiloxane dental gel. These were then taken to London for further examination, and the casts were identified to the level of plant family, enabling quantitative and qualitative analysis. More recently, archaeometallurgical research in western Uganda in 2007 also revealed the repeated presence of these banana pseudostem impressions in iron smelting slag, confirming that this was an unusual, yet intentional aspect of these localized iron production technologies.
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    Relevance of Banana Seeds in Archaeology
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2009) De Langhe, Edmond
    In this contribution, the importance of banana seeds collected during archaeological investigations is indicated. Because fully-formed seeds are not ordinarily produced in bananas cultivated for food, the archaeological relevance of banana seeds may initially appear to be limited. However, there are a number of contexts in which the recovery and identification of seeds can be important for understanding the initial domestication and dispersal of bananas by people. In this respect, the possible existence of naturalized species and/or subspecies is hereby reported. Several innovative hypotheses are advanced based on botanical considerations, which may have profound consequences for the reconstruction of the prehistory of banana domestication and the involved regions, and which archaeology can assist in confirming, modulating or refuting.
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    Tracing Domestication and Cultivation of Bananas from Phytoliths: An update from Papua New Guinea
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2009) Lentfer, Carol J.
    There is now good evidence from current banana distributions and genetic analysis that Papua New Guinea and nearby regions have played a key role in the domestication of edible Eumusa and Australimusa bananas. Strong support for this also comes from phytoliths in the archaeobotanical record. Seeds have diagnostic phytoliths which can be used to discriminate between the two main sections of edible bananas, the giant banana, Musa ingens, and Ensete. Therefore, the presence of seed phytoliths and their subsequent disappearance from archaeological assemblages can be used to trace processes of domestication leading to parthenocarpy and sterility. Following loss of viable seeds, banana presence can still be documented from phytolith morphotypes from other plant parts, particularly the volcaniform morphotypes from leaves. Nevertheless, according to several pioneer studies, these are more difficult to differentiate unless they occur in regions where certain species or varieties of bananas are not endemic. This paper reviews results from morphometric and morphotypic analyses of Musaceae phytoliths and briefly introduces the ‘New Guinea Banana Project’ which builds upon previous analyses. The morphometric database, combined with a comprehensive set of images, facilitates banana phytolith identification and is another step forward in solving the issues surrounding banana dispersal, cultivation and domestication, especially in the Pacific/New Guinea region.
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    Differentiating the Volcaniform Phytoliths of Bananas: Musa acuminata
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2009) Vrydaghs, L. ; Ball, T. ; Volkaert, H. ; van den Houwe, I. ; Manwaring, J. ; De Langhe, E.
    Banana phytoliths are considered a suitable tool in archaeology to track the history of the human populations involved in banana cultivation and dispersal throughout the tropical world. This study is confined to an initial investigation of the species Musa acuminata Colla and of its edible diploid and triploid derivatives. Slight morphological and/or morphometrical differences of the volcaniform phytoliths can be expected because of the very complex and bi-specific phylogeny of the edible banana. A stepwise procedure in the analysis of these phytoliths is therefore required. Analysis of 21 samples covering a wide spectrum in genetic diversity, shows that banana phytolith diversity is linked to phylogeny. The results suggest that precise and reliable identification of phytoliths in archaeological contexts is possible, but that the examination of an additional set of samples is necessary to fully understand the extent of morphotypic variation and traits for diagnostic discrimination.
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    Going Bananas in Papua New Guinea: A preliminary study of starch granule morphotypes in Musaceae fruit
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2009) Lentfer, Carol J.
    Starch granules can be well preserved in a variety of archaeological contexts, for example, in residues and sediments. Therefore, starch analysis has potential to provide another means of tracking the exploitation, dispersal and domestication of Musa bananas and Ensete. Starch granule morphotypes from fruits of Ensete glaucum and wild and cultivated Australimusa and Eumusa bananas were analyzed in this preliminary study. Numerous starch granule morphotypes were present in every sample analyzed. One hundred and nine morphotypes, representing 38 morphotype groups (variants) were described. Of these, several are specific to the samples analyzed and others occurred in more than one sample. They can be used to discriminate between different genera, sections, species and cultivars. Raphides were also numerous in wild Australimusa bananas. Although additional studies are required to determine levels of specificity, this preliminary study shows that starch analysis (and raphide presence and abundance) can be used in a similar way to phytolith analysis in the identification of Musaceae and has extremely good potential as a tool for tracing the prehistory of bananas in the archaeological record.
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    Combining Biological Approaches to Shed Light on the Evolution of Edible Bananas
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2009) Perrier, Xavier ; Bakry, Frederic ; Carreel, Francoise ; Jenny, Christophe ; Horry, Jean-Pierre ; Lebot, Vincent ; Hippolyte, Isabelle
    Deciphering the diversity of the banana complex needs a joint characterization and analysis of the original wild species and their relatives, primitive diploid forms and triploid derived varieties. Sexuality, the primary source of diversity, is strongly disrupted in the cultivated varieties (sterility, parthenocarpy and vegetative propagation) by human selection of vegetatively maintained punctuated mutations. Many biological tools are available for characterizing this diversity, each one illustrating some peculiar facets, and we show that their joint analysis enables an evolutionary reading of this diversity. We propose various scenarios regarding the structure of wild species, on the domestication of the edible diploids from hybrids between wild forms, on the direct ancestry of triploids from cultivated diploids, and on the ancient migrations dispersing cultivated forms around the world. The comparison with data from archaeology, linguistics and human genetics will enable the validation, refinement and dating of the proposed domestication process.