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

Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
Journal of Archaeological Science (Impact Factor: 2.2). 05/2006; 33(5):595-614. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2005.07.020


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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    • "Sweet potato tuber starch grains are identified using size (8e30 mm), shape (sub-spherical, often bell-shaped), a distinctive central vacuole or open hila that sometimes has an associated fissure and visible lamellae can sometimes be seen on larger grains (Loy et al., 1992; Piperno and Holst, 1998; Horrocks et al., 2004; Torrence and Barton, 2006; Horrocks et al., 2012; Allen and Ussher, 2013). Starch grains from D. alata (yam) tubers are identified by size (40e80 mm), shape (elongated oval), an eccentric hilum and Maltese cross and visible lamellae (Loy et al., 1992; Fullagar et al., 2006; Horrocks et al., 2012). C. esculenta (taro) corms have very small (~4 mm) starch grains that are round and are usually only identified when found in large aggregates (Crowther, 2005; Horrocks and Nunn, 2007; Horrocks et al., 2008). "
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