Early banana cultivation in the Torres Strait

Friday, 14 August 2020

Archaeobotanical analyses (mainly starch granule and phytolith) of an abandoned agricultural terrace on Mabuyag, an island in the Torres Strait separating Australia’s Cape York Peninsula and the island of New Guinea, found evidence of banana cultivation from at least 2,000 years ago.  The authors of the study say that bananas were probably cultivars from New Guinea, a centre of banana domestication, rather than from wild bananas growing on Australia, wild bananas being absent in Mabuyag. Additionally, phytoliths typical of banana seeds were not observed in the microfossil assemblage, further supporting a scenario involving the introduction of cultivars.

The Torres Strait is one of the few regions in the world where hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists coexisted. The lead archeologist said that this study "has implications for neighbouring Cape York and provides the methodology for investigating forms of horticulture practiced by Aboriginal Australians. Perhaps Aboriginal Australians experimented with vegetative propagation of banana and yam? The problem is, no one has done the work to check."

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