Crops and Cultures in the Pacific: New Data and New Techniques for the Investigation of Old Questions

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2004
Authors
Pickersgill, Barbara
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
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Fifty years ago Carl Sauer suggested, controversially and on the basis of theory rather than evidence, that South-east Asia was the source area for agriculture throughout the Old World, including the Pacific. Since then, the archaeobotanical record (macroscopic and microscopic) from the Pacific islands has increased, leading to suggestions, also still controversial, that Melanesia was a center of origin of agriculture independent of South-east Asia, based on tree fruits and nuts and vegetatively propagated starchy staples. Such crops generally lack morphological markers of domestication, so exploitation, cultivation and domestication cannot easily be distinguished in the archaeological record. Molecular studies involving techniques such as chromosome painting, DNA fingerprinting and DNA sequencing, can potentially complement the archaeological record by suggesting where species which were spread through the Pacific by man originated and by what routes they attained their present distributions. A combination of archaeobotanical and molecular studies should therefore eventually enable the rival claims of Melanesia versus South-east Asia as independent centers of invention of agriculture to be assessed.
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Pickersgill B. 2004. Crops and cultures in the Pacific: new data and new techniques for the investigation of old questions. Ethnobotany Res Appl 2:1-8.
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