Site hosted by Build your free website today!

This post is an attempt to summarize and put together in one place the argument against a human assisted diffusion of the bottle gourd (* Lagenaria siceraria *) from Africa to the New World.

Yuri Kuchinsky's arguments favoring diffusion are based primarily in chapters from * Man Across the Sea* a non-refereed (1971) publication of papers presented at a diffusionist conference some years before and a non-refereed paper by Donald Lathrap (1977) actually given at a conference in 1973. Yuri complains about the fact that we cite contemporaneous works, but the fact of the matter is that botanical diffusionism reached its high water mark in the 70's. No new or additional evidence has emerged supporting diffusion since then, while new evidence against diffusion has. As a result, botanical diffusionism is not worth rebutting in mainstream works on the beginning of agriculture.

The most extensive claim for African diffusion of *Lagenaria siceraria* is Lathrap (1977). Briefly, Lathrap argues that 1) the bottle gourd originated in Africa, 2) that it was brought over to the New World by fishermen about 16,000 years ago together with short-staple cotton, and Leguminosae fish poisons of the genus *Lonchocarpus* and *Tephrosia*, 3) that even though bottle gourd has been shown to survive and be fertile after long immersion in sea water, it is not a strand plant (part of a natural beach community) and therefore humans had to be involved in its dispersion in the New World.

The only recent article supporting Lathrap that Yuri cited was Anna Roosevelt (1995) who cited him as follows (p. 116): "... Donald Lathrap... argued that pottery had been brought in [to South America] during the late Pleistocene, around 13,000 years ago, by root-cultivating migrants from Africa (Lathrap 1977)."

Unfortunately, Roosevelt erred because Lathrap did not say that his fishermen brought pottery as John Hoopes acknowledged in a communication to this list. Additionally, there is a huge temporal gap between Lathrap's postulated time and Roosevelt's first pottery about 7000 years ago. Thus Roosevelt does not support Lathrap and is irrelevant to the question at hand.

Contrary evidence:

Charles Reed, the editor of the volume containing Lathrap's paper, provided a summary of the volume (Reed 1977: 931-935) and was pretty dismissive of Lathrap's bottle gourd argument. Reed, like many others, argued that an autodiffusion dispersion in which the gourd floated over and was established by one of several mechanisms (growing on the beach, violent waves or hurricanes carrying the gourds inland to better ecological zones, native human or animal dispersion) was more likely. Thus Lathrap's diffusion was rejected by professional botanists at the time it was proposed.

Subsequently, even people who are diffusionists, and on whom Yuri relies admit that evidence for human diffusion of bottle gourd has not been forthcoming. Needham and Lu (1985:60) make the point although referring to trans-Pacific diffusion: "We now come to the ethno-botanical evidence about Trans-Pacific voyages; the possible carrying of esculent and other plants between the Old and New Worlds by human means. When we wrote in 1971, this appeared to constitute rather strong evidence for trans-pacific contacts, but while many other culture-traits that we have mentioned seem to have grown in importance, this line of argument seems to have greatly declined. In spite of the repeated efforts of Carter to maintain its importance, the present position is more as stated in the lucid view of Baker and this is broadly supported by judicious authors, even though favorable to diffusion, such as Tolstoy. It was at one time believed that the distribution of the coconut palm (COCUS NUCIFERA) and the gourd or calabash (LAGENARIA SICERARIA) both indicated transmission across the Pacific by human means. But it is now considered that both of them could have been sea-borne."

Heiser (1993, reprint of 1979) deals extensively with *Lagenaria siceraria* and with Lathrap's arguments. I'll review some of his points and add some of my own.

The new evidence that is relevant is cited by Heiser in the new introduction (1993: iv). "It has generally been thought that the bottle gourd was carried by people from Mexico to eastern North America, although there was a probability that it arrived naturally by ocean drift. If the latter did, occur, Florida was the most likely place for its arrival. It is therefore of considerable interest that the oldest gourd known north of Mexico, over 7000 years old has been reported from a site in east-central Florida (Doran, Dickel and Neewsom 1990). Although this discovery, of course, does not prove that the gourd first reached Florida by ocean drift, I feel that it strengthens the possibility that it did so."

pp. 79-83. Heiser points out that we donÕt know exactly how wild *L. siceraria* is reproduced-- there is no clear proof or evidence. [BOM this goes to the question of how the gourd was dispersed after it arrived in the New World. Wild *Lagenaria* had to have a way to reproduce without human intervention, and it is possible that wild *Lagenaria* is the species that floated over. Heiser points out that wild *Lagenaria* could have floated over 100,000 years ago.

The place of origin of bottle gourd is not absolutely clear. It was widely diffused over the world in prehistoric times. Africa is most likely candidate but there are 3 types of criteria people have used to determine place of plant origin.

1) existence of a wild form. There are *no* wild forms of *Lagenaria siceraria* left anywhere so that an African origin cannot be proved this way.

2) Vavilov's theory is that the place with the greatest variability is the place of origin. Africa has the most variability in bottle gourd BUT Heiser says that we now know that the zone of variability is not necessarily the zone of origin. [BOM cannot prove Africa this way]

3) Oldest archaeological remains. [BOM do not support Africa]

The earliest is highland Peru (13,000 BC C(14) but only one sample so that it might be intrusive, if so there is firm dating at 6000BC); coastal Peru 6000 BC (C(14) several samples date is OK); Mexico 6000-4000 BC (C(14) several samples date OK); Thailand 10,000-6000 BC (C(14) date is OK but Heiser says it is not a gourd therefore the oldest gourd still in New World); New Guinea 350 BC (C(14) date OK); Pacific circa. AD 0; Egypt c. 2000 BC (12th Dynasty not C(14)); Zambia 2000 BC (C(14) date OK); other Africa 900 BC. [BOM Florida 5300 BC]. There is still a problem knowing whether these gourds were wild or cultivated.

p. 84. Find 5 species of wild *Lagenaria* sp. in Africa. On this basis, Heiser assumes that *L. siceraria* originated in Africa but this is not conclusive. There is a possibility that it might have originated early in America and Asia and migrated early to Africa. However, (p. 87) there is a report that *Lagenaria brevifolia* was growing wild in Brazil at the turn of the century.

[BOM] Bottom line is that in fact an African origin is not conclusively proven and that the oldest gourds found archaeologically are in the New World *not* in Africa by several thousand years. There is also the fact that plant domestication began in the New World about 8000 BC (Smith 1997), at least 5000 years before plant domestication began in West Africa.

pp. 99-117. Heiser goes into detail about Lathrap's hypothesis of bottle gourd being brought over from Africa 16,000 years ago together with African cotton and Leguminosae fish poisons. Heiser says that he is been accused of straddling the fence on the diffusion question, has no preconceived ideas about diffusion, and was taught by Carl O. Sauer, a diffusionist who also taught George Carter, Yuri's favorite. But after discussing the evidence for and against he comes out against Lathrap, and in favor of bottle gourd floating over by itself.

p. 112- Heiser says that if cotton and fish poison could be proved it would greatly strengthen Lathrap's proposal on the gourd [BOM see below that new evidence in fact weakens Lathrap].

p. 115. "Much to do has been made of the fact that it is not a strand plant-- that is, it is not found as a member of shore communities of plants-- but I don't think this necessarily proves that it could never become established on a beach. In fact, there is at least one firm record of it growing in such a site. The botanist Henri Pittier collected a specimen, now in the United States National Herbarium (4138), growing along a beach at Viento Frio in Panama. I am not claiming that this plant resulted from a transatlantic voyage, only that it proves that it will grow upon a beach. Moreover, I am not sure it is necessary to prove this, for strong waves, perhaps the result of a hurricane, might carry gourds inland to a suitable site for their growth."


1) Cotton has now been shown to have hybridized over 1 million years ago before humans were around (Percy and Wendel 1990; Wendel 1989) so that Lathrap was wrong in this instance.

2) Many species of Leguminosae fish poisons containing rotenone are used in the New World, many of these are native species. Why would one need to posit imported species? There are also other leguminosae species used as fish poisons why just the two cited by Lathrap? I did a brief search of books in my library and found a number of other leguminosae used as fish poisons as well as the two genus cited by Lathrap. Most of the use a fish poison was in the New World and a few in Asia. I found none cited as fish poisons in Africa although *Lonchocarpus* sp. are used medicinally in Africa. One would have to do a much more intensive and systematic search to be conclusive but it is clear that there was no need to import fish poisons form Africa. Thus, 2 out of 3 of Lathrap's African imports are erroneous. And *Lagenaria siceraria* is equally in error.

Mabberly (1987) gives the number of species and the range where the genus is found:

p. 177. Derris .Leguminosae. 40 sp. SE Asia to N. Australia extending to E. Africa and W. Pacific- source of rotenone fish poisons.

p. 340. Lonchocarpus. Leguminosae. 150 sp. tropics of America reaching W. Africa. Many used a s fish poisons (barbasco, haiari) in S. America and sources of rotenone.

p. 373. Millettia. Leguminosae. 90 sp. Old World Tropics. some are fish poisons

p. 457. Piscidia. Leguminosae. 7 sp. Central America to W. Indies and Florida. roots fish poison.

p. 572. Tephrosia. Leguminosae. 400 sp. tropics especially Africa-- fish poison and green manure. Africa, S. America.

Morton (1981: 352) cites the following Ò *Tephrosia cinerea.* Native to New World contains rotenone used in Venezuela, Surinam as fish poison.

von Reis Altschul (1973) searched the Harvard Herbarium and finds the following Leguminosae:

p. 122 *Lonchocarpus benthamianus*- Antigua, said to poison fish L. chrysophyllus- Brit. Guiana. very effective fish poison. L. martynii- Brit. Guiana. less effective fish poison L. urucu- Colombia, fish poison p. 120 *Tephrosia multifolia*- El Salvador, to kill fish (barbasco) BUT ALSO p. 107. Pithecellobium ellipticum- Sumatra, root fish poison. p. 118. Caesalpinia tsoongii- China, stupefy fish p. 120. Milletia lasiopetala. China, crushed root kill fish p. 123 Derris malaccensis- Malaya, seeds, roots, stem, kill fish Derris sp. Caroline islands, root kills fish 3 minutes p. 125. Pueraria peduncularis China, root kills fish

von Reis and Lipp (1982) conducted a similar search in the New York herbarium

p. 135 Lonchocarpus velutinus. Panama, rotenone, poison sharks L. dominguensis. Martinique. fish poison tree L. chrysophyllum- Surinam, cultivated fish poison L. denudatus- Brazil, fish poison L. floribundus- Surinam, fish poison L. latifolius- Venezuela, fish poison L. martynii, L. rariflorus, L. ruficens- Brit. Guiana, fish poisons L. urucu- Brazil, roots fish poison L. utilis- Ecuador, roots poison fish L. stipularis- Australia, Queensland, fish poison

p. 140 Tephrosia heydeana- Guatemala, fish poison T. multifolia- Honduras, fish poison T. emarginata- Brazil, fish poison T. sinapan- Peru, fish poison

p. 117 Leucaena trichoides- Peru, fish poison p. 120 Bauhinia glabra- Venezuela, fish poison p. 132 Derris amazonica, D. latifolia- Brazil, kill fish D. sp.- China, poison fish D. sp.- Burma, poison fish D. mindorensis- Philippine Is, poison fish D. trifoliata- Fiji, poison fish p. 134. Fordia filipes- Brit. N. Borneo, poison fish p. 136 Lupinus mutabilis- Peru, kill fish p. 137. Millettia lasiopetala- Hainan, kill fish M. sp.- Indochina, stupefy fish p. 138. Piscidia grandiflora- Honduras, fish poison P. carthaginensis- Martinique, fish poison p. 141 Vataireopsis speciosa- Surinam, fish poison.

Glen H. Doran, D.N. Dickel, and L. A. Newsom. 1990. ÒA 7,290-year old bottle gourd from the Windover Site, Florida,Ó American Antiquity, 55: 354-360.

Charles B. Heiser. 1993 [1979]. The Gourd Book. Norman: U. Oklahoma Press.

Donald W. Lathrap, ÒOur Father the Cayman, Our Mother the Gourd...Ó IN C.A. Reed, ed. 1977. * Origins of Agriculture*, 713-751, the Hague: Mouton.

D.J. Mabberly. 1987. *The Plant Book*. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Julia F. Morton. 1981. *Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America*. Springfield, IL: C.c. Thomas.

Joseph Needham and Lu Qwei-Djen. 1985. *Trans-Pacific Echoes and Resonances; Listening Once Again. Singapore, Philadelphia: World Scientific.

Percy, R.G. & J.F. Wendel. 1990 "Allozyme Evidence for the Origin and Diversification of Gossypium Barbadense L." Theoretical and Applied Genetics, vol. 79, no. 4.

Charles A. Reed. 1977. " Origins of Agriculture: Discussion and Some Conclusions," in C. A. Reed, ed, * Origins of Agriculture*. 879-953. the Hague: Mouton.

Anna Roosevelt 1995, Ò?Ó in John Hoopes, ed.. *The Emergence of Pottery*. pp. ? Washington DC: Smithonian Institution Press.

Bruce D. Smith. 1997. ÒThe Initial Domestication of *Cucurbita pepo* in the Americas 10,000 years ago,Ó *Science,* 276: 932-934.

Siri von Reis Altschul. 1973. *Drugs and Foods from Little Known Plants* (Harvard Herbarium). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Siri von Reis and Frank J. Lipp. 1982. *New Plant sources for Drugs and Foods from the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium*. Cambridge,MA: Harvard U. Press

Wendel, J.F. 1989 "New World Tetraploid Cottons Contain Old World Cytoplasm" Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA vol. 86, no. 11.