Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gimme Gimme New Guinea!

I just got done reading this article about this study done in New Guinea. The researchers were looking to see when agriculture first came to New Guinea, and they discovered that bananas were likely domesticated first here in 5000 BC (or 6950 BP, if you can translate that). For me, that number is amazing because it is difficult to imagine how you would transform a plant from a wild variety to a domesticated one without any modern technology. It would take several generations of people to get it all done too. It is also interesting that domestication occurred at all because the site that this was done at, Kuk, was not a dense montane forest like the surrounding area but a swampland and grassy area. What are the chances humans would go there and then domesticate something? Okay, they probably were attracted there for the variety of food they could get at that location. But imagine if bananas were never domesticated. What would you put on your cereal?

Actually, some prehistoric groups domesticated plants that are now either extinct or not in wide use. The group of people living in eastern United States 3000 years ago domesticated some plants, like chenopods and sumpweed, that aren't eaten much today. I don't even know what they would taste like. This group did, however, domesticate sunflowers. Probably. There still seems to be a little confusion over that. 

Learning where foods were first domesticated makes me think about how amazing humans are. It is our ability to adapt to new environments and new situations that makes us such a dominant species. At the same time, the antiquity of domestication kind of debunks the push for "natural" foods. If you really wanted your food to be untouched by human hands, it would be nearly impossible. You'd have to give up all the foods you eat now and try to go out into the wilderness and collect wild specimens. Good luck with that. 

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