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Early and mid Holocene tool-use and processing of taro (Colocasia esculenta), yam (Dioscorea sp.) and other plants at Kuk Swamp in the highlands of Papua New Guinea

Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; Australian Key Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis & The School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton Campus, Wellington Road, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia; School of Social Sciences, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia
Journal of Archaeological Science 01/2006; DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2005.07.020

ABSTRACT Recent multidisciplinary investigations document an independent emergence of agriculture at Kuk Swamp in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. In this paper we report preliminary usewear analysis and details of prehistoric use of stone tools for processing starchy food and other plants at Kuk Swamp. Morphological diagnostics for starch granules are reported for two potentially significant economic species, taro (Colocasia esculenta) and yam (Dioscorea sp.), following comparisons between prehistoric and botanical reference specimens. Usewear and residue analyses of starch granules indicate that both these species were processed on the wetland margin during the early and mid Holocene. We argue that processing of taro and yam commences by at least 10,200 calibrated years before present (cal BP), although the taro and yam starch granules do not permit us to distinguish between wild or cultivated forms. From at least 6950 to 6440 cal BP the processing of taro, yam and other plants indicates that they are likely to have been integrated into cultivation practices on the wetland edge.

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