Banana Cultivation in South Asia and East Asia: A review of the evidence from archaeology and linguistics

Dorian Q. Fuller, Marco Madella
2009 Ethnobotany Research and Applications  
the present and what can be suggested for the early and mid Holocene from palaeoecological reconstructions. Archaeological evidence for bananas in these regions remains very limited. Our purpose in this contribution is to situate those few data points of prehistoric banana phytoliths and seeds within the history of appropriate sampling (e.g., for phytoliths) that might have provided evidence for bananas, thus highlighting the potential for more intensive future efforts. We also review some
more » ... so review some evidence from historical linguistics and textual historical sources on the early history of bananas in India and China. There is hardly a cottage in India that has not its grove of plantains. The natives live almost upon them; and the stems of the plantain, laden with their branches of fruit, are invariably placed at the entrance of their houses during their marriage or other festivals, appropriate emblems of plenty and fertility. (Drury 1873:301) Abstract 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. Figure 1. Distribution of wild Musaceae in Indian core region in relation to potential vegetation zones. Base map from Asouti and Fuller (2008). Notes: Temperate and Himalayan types excluded. Sri Lanka vegetation zones are inaccurate, and only indicative of approximate bioclimatic equivalence to South Indian vegetation.
doi:10.17348/era.7.0.333-351 fatcat:yulf5bcshjdnbaxnqz2w7mtafy