[NOTE: This is a very long file. It starts with my original post on this
subject (with some deletions and corrections), and then further
clarifications and explanations follow. At the end, in order to help
researchers, I include a couple of relevant articles by Ross Clark where
he critiques some of this evidence, and provides some of his own.]

   Polynesian history: more botanical evidence
   Author:   Yuri Kuchinsky
   Date: 1998/08/05
   Forums: sci.archaeology, sci.anthropology, rec.arts.books,

How extremely ironic it is that the mainstream scholars who are forever
trying to 'refute' Heyerdahl so often don't even bother to read
Heyerdahl. Here we will see one more good indication of this.

Recently I've documented how Dr. Paul Bahn, the main recent mainstream
critic of Heyerdahl, obviously failed to read Thor's key works, and to
bother to get a grip of even the basic theories about Polynesian history
that Thor has proposed. How can we find a better illustration of wilful
mainstream ignorance in this area, and perhaps even dishonesty?

In his book, Dr. Bahn focused on only two items of botanical evidence
indicating EI -- SA links, manioc and chili. He did his best to dismiss
them and he felt he has done enough. So, obviously he _hasn't even read_
Heyerdahl's more academic works dealing with this subject (refs are at
the end of this post). This is shameful professional incompetence.

And so, here's a list of important items culled from these two books by


[there are 22 items in these original lists] 

Botanical evidence for contact between Easter Island and South America
-- new evidence not cited before as yet in these discussions.

Very good--

small tomato (Solanum Zycopersicum) [Ross: new name Lycopersicon
taro (Xanthosoma atrovirens)
Polygonum acuminatum (fresh-water medicinal plant).
husk-tomato (Physalis peruviana -- more ancient tomato-like plant)


Cyperus vegetus (edible roots)
Lycium carolinianum (edible berries)
arrow-root [this one was later withdrawn, as evidence was insufficient]
chili ["By the turn of the present century, however, W. Knoche (1925, p.
122), speaking of the local presence of the chili pepper, says: "From
the same family derives a small tomato (Solanum Zycopersicum) which has
disappeared from EI." (Heyerdahl, EARLY MAN AND THE OCEAN, 1978, p.


Botanical evidence for contact between other Polynesian islands and
South America.

Very good--

husk-tomato (Physalis peruviana)
maho (Hibiscus tiliaceus)
Argemone (medicinal plant)
Heliconia (fibre plant)
yam-bean (Pachyrrhizus)
taro (Xanthosoma atrovirens)


chili (found growing wild in the Marquesas)
Aristida (used for head-ornaments)
Ageratum (used for ornaments)
yam (Dioscorea)
beans:  common (Phaseolus)
        lima-bean (P. lunatus)
        jack-bean, or sword-bean (Canavalia sp.)

So here we go, ladies and gentlemen.

These are two rather long lists. I've sorted them according to my own
estimate of how solid the background information and references
Heyerdahl provides seem to me. "Very good" category seems quite solid to
me. "Good" category can be challenged, but if taken together with the
other items, the balance of probability will point towards these items
as valid.

Much more can be said about all of the above botanical items of course.
But this should be a good start.


    AUTHOR: Heyerdahl, Thor.
     TITLE: Early man and the ocean : a search for the beginnings
      of navigation and seaborne civilizations.
 PUBLISHED: Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1979.

   AUTHOR: Heyerdahl, Thor
    TITLE: Sea routes to Polynesia. With editorial notes by Karl
     Jettmar and a foreword by Hans Ahlmann.
PUBLISHED: London Allen and Unwin [1968]




[NOTE: Above items were closely scrutinized in the discussion that
followed. Subsequently, I've withdrawn only one item, arrowroot, since
some (not insurmountable) problems were found with it. Hibiscus was
discussed in detail, and its relevance was questioned. Still hibiscus
seems like a good item. The rest still stand as clear evidence of SA
influence on EI and Polynesia. See the following post with my current
position on hibiscus. Out of these plants, Ross considered as the
stronger ones,

   small tomato (Solanum Zycopersicum, more recently known as
		Lycopersicon esculentum)
   Xanthosoma taro
   husk-tomato (Physalis peruviana, also known as Cape gooseberry)
   chili (in Marquesas)]


   Author:   Yuri Kuchinsky
   Date: 1998/08/18                                                       
   Forums: sci.archaeology, sci.anthropology, rec.arts.books

Now, here's my position on hibiscus/maho.                                 
We now know that it was native to South America. We know that the ocean
currents in the area strongly favour human travel from SA to Polynesia.
It is also known that the ethnobotanical uses of this plant in SA and in
Polynesia are in close parallel. We also know that the names of the
plant in both areas seem similar.
All this would indicate that the plant, and its associated uses and
names, diffused from SA to Polynesia.

The alternative hypothesis, I presume, is that the plant and its uses
diffused to Polynesia from Asia. Against this the arguments seem to be.
a) It is not certain at this point that the plant is really native to
Asia. We have an assertion of one scholar to this effect, and that's
about it. This is a very complex and little studied subject area, and
even "famous scholars" have been known to be wrong on such things, and
often.  Maho may well have been introduced to Asia from SA. This is
certainly not impossible.
b) So far, we still don't know anything about ethnobotanical uses of
this plant in Asia. How can we be sure that this plant was used in Asia
in the same way it was used in Polynesia? Another uncertainty.
c) Such an alternative hypothesis will need to rely on a lot of
questionable assumptions, and will leave a lot of data unexplained. Such
as, How come the names and the uses of this plant in Polynesia and in SA
are so similar? Pure coincidence? A theory that needs to postulate a lot
of such coincidences should be suspect by its very nature.
So, without any further information being introduced, the available
evidence still points to maho being brought to Polynesia from America.



[Some items clarified:]


Sword-bean = jack-bean (Canavalia sp.). Widely cultivated throughout the
Pacific (Heyerdahl, EARLY MAN AND THE OCEAN, 1978:80-81). So this item
still remains very relevant to Polynesia because it indicates the strong
trans-pacific influence of ancient Americans.

Two types of common beans, (Phaseolus vulgaris, and Phaseolus lunatus).

With P. lunatus, Heyerdahl actually doesn't give any evidence that it
was present in Polynesia. But P. lunatus, a native American crop, went
even further than Polynesia; it went all the way to Indonesia and
Indo-China where it is well attested as a very ancient crop. So P.
lunatus actually indicates ancient American influence as far as _Asia_
(where maize, and some other Americans crops were also present). So this
item still remains very relevant to Polynesia because it indicates the
strong trans-pacific influence of ancient Americans. (Heyerdahl, SEA
ROUTES TO POLYNESIA, 1968, p. 71ff.)

P. vulgaris is another similar case. Although it is not apparently
attested in Polynesia, it is well attested in Europe, where it was
mentioned by the Greek writer Hippocrates ca 400 BC as Phaseolos (Ibid
in Heyerdahl; further ref: Hutchinson, Silow, and Stephens, THE
COTTONS, London, 1947, p. 138.). So here we see a case where ancient
Americans contributed to the European civilization some 2,000 years
before Columbus.


Dioscorea (yam). (Heyerdahl, EARLY MAN AND THE OCEAN, 1978:234-235).
Cultivated in Polynesia and America. But, according to Ross, there's a
claim (Simmonds, _Evolution of Crop Plants_) that the New World yams of
the genus Dioscorea are different species from the Asian-Pacific ones. I
haven't checked this out yet. Needs more research.


[Later I wrote:]

Allow me to clarify one very important point. I'm certainly _not_ trying
to argue that solid and irrefutable evidence exists for _each and every
one_ of the 30 plants on this list. What I'm _really_ arguing here is
that THERE WAS CULTURAL CONTACT between ancient S America and Polynesia.
And also that ancient Americans contributed greatly to world
civilisations, although professional authorities still refuse to give
them credit that is due to them.

In other words, the plants are not an argument for their own sake. To be
sure, evidence is much stronger for the 11 plants that I itemised
separately, but some evidence for transmission exists for 29.

Since we already have the sweet potato accepted widely, all we really
need is ONE OR TWO MORE plants to make the case for cultural contact
papaya will do the trick, it seems, so there is no real need to argue
about the whole lot of them, and to examine the little minutiae of each
and every case in isolation from others, and from the larger issues.
Some scholars no doubt will find it useful to examine each case
separately, and for them this file should be of help.

When the botanical evidence is being considered, the first thing to keep
in mind is the CUMULATIVE NATURE of these arguments. In other words, if
we know that one plant was carried to EI by humans from SA, this means
that IT IS VERY LIKELY that other plants were also carried to EI. Even
in cases when the evidence for one of these plants may be in doubt, the
fact that a few others are not in doubt should help settle the other
cases as well.

And, very importantly, EVEN ONE good case should be able to substantiate
the general theory. Once we have, for example, pineapple clearly
established as ancient introduction to EI, we don't really need anything
more. All the other items are then merely the icing on the cake.

Having established that humans brought some agricultural plants from S
America to Polynesia, we can confidently expect that the burden of proof
for other such plants will be lightened. Migration of one plant provides
corroboration and support for similar migrations of other plants.

The more substantial claims are substantiated further in other files on
my webpage.

[post by Ross with his review of evidence]

From: Ross Clark 
Subject: Re: Polynesia: academic Fantasy World
Date: 04 Dec 1998 00:00:00 GMT
Message-ID: <3667634F.6F3A@antnov1.auckland.ac.nz>

On Oct. 25 I posted the results of looking in Heyerdahl's Early Man and
the Ocean (1978) for information on 13 species. These were species for
which Yuri had claimed there was "good"  or "very good" evidence of
pre-European human transmission from the Americas to Polynesia, but had
not presented any evidence of this in his posts. The results of my
search were not very impressive. But, as Yuri points out, there was yet
another Heyerdahl book, Sea Routes to Polynesia (1968), which I had not
looked at. Now I have, so let's go over the 13 again:

1) Polygonum acuminatum (fresh-water medicinal plant) Observed by
Skottsberg, early 20th century, said to be of American origin and
require human transport. Heyerdahl cites Selling as finding Polygonum
pollen appearing suddenly in pollen cores at time of first human
occupation.  Selling's results are apparently still unpublished,
according to Bahn & Flenley (1992:42). They mention Heyerdahl's claim,
but don't directly answer it.

2) Cyperus vegetus (edible roots) Observed by Skottsberg as (1), but no
evidence of early presence mentioned.

3) Lycium carolinianum (edible berries) As for (2)

4) Physalis peruviana (husk-tomato or cape gooseberry) Mentioned by
Hillebrand as in Hawaii in 1888. Heyerdahl says "formerly widespread in
eastern Polynesia", without further references. No evidence about early
presence or possibility of unassisted transmission.

5) Argemone (medicinal plant) Puakala or Hawaiian poppy. Part of a
mainly American genus, but now considered a distinct species (A.glauca),
hence not of human introduction. Remember that there is lots of
"American"  flora and fauna in Hawaii that got itself there long before

[earlier note by Ross]

   "Argemone - The two sources I have here (O. Degener, Plants of Hawaii
   National Parks, 1930, and A.K.Kepler, Hawaiian Heritage Plants,
   1984) consider this an indigenous Hawaiian species, A.glauca, not
   the same as any American species." [LATER NOTE
   (Thompson:379,ch11,n28): Feddi and Prain noted the plant's genetic
   affinity tot he Peruvian Argemone, which was also used as a

6) Heliconia (fibre plant) "wild banana". Heyerdahl cites Baker (1893)  
and O.F.Cook (1903) as favouring human introduction. Merrill (Botany of
Cook's Voyages, 1954, 305) is not convinced.

7) Pachyrrhizus (yam bean). Heyerdahl cites Cook (1903) again. Guppy and
Graeffe seem to be the primary sources on the range and use of this
plant. There is no mention of its occurrence in eastern Polynesia. Tonga
is one of the places where it is said to grow, but Whistler (Ethnobotany
of Tonga, 1991) does not mention it, and I have seen hardly any mention
of it anywhere in Polynesia or Melanesia. A possible clue to the problem
is Merrill's opinion (op.cit.) that it was a misidentification of
Pueraria, another leguminous plant of Asian origin. This incorrect
identification found its way into a Flora of Fiji and has been re-quoted
by many people ever since.

8) Xanthosoma (type of taro) I found no evidence of pre-European
introduction in any of Heyerdahl's books.

9) Aristida (grass used for head ornaments) pavahina, Marquesas. Brown
(1935) considered it a possible unintentional introduction by early

10) Ageratum (used for ornaments) mei roro, Marquesas. Also mentioned as
in Tubuai, and found in Samoa and Tonga. Brown considers it another
unintentional early introduction. Brown describes this species as
"pantropic", which makes me wonder exactly what his reasons are for also
saying it's "of American origin".

11) Phaseolus vulgaris (common bean) 

12) Phaseolus lunatus (lima bean)
	There is no mention in Heyerdahl 1976 or 1968 of any evidence 
that either of these species was present in Polynesia or the Pacific 
islands generally before European times. 

13) Canavalia (jackbean or swordbean) Heyerdahl cites Stonor & Anderson
(1949) as saying that this plant is "widely cultivated throughout the
Pacific". This is news to me. Several vines of this genus grow in the
Pacific islands as beach weeds. They are not cultivated, and nobody eats
them except pigs. Possibly Stonor and Anderson provide some evidence for
their claim, but since the title of their paper is "Maize among the hill
peoples of Assam", it seems more likely that it was just a casual remark
that Heyerdahl never bothered to check.

So, having looked at the evidence, I suggest we forget about 5, 8, 11,
12 and 13 unless you can come up with something better. 7 also does not
look at all promising. The remainder can join the "maybe" pile.

[An unusual post where Ross argues for more plant introductions from

From: Ross Clark 
Subject: Re: Polynesia: academic Fantasy World
Date: 03 Dec 1998 00:00:00 GMT
Message-ID: <36663A78.1F45@antnov1.auckland.ac.nz>

Just a couple of followups on the revived Trans-Pacific botanical 

First, as promised, a clarification of the bottle gourd business.

The basic reasons for considering the bottle gourd (Lagenaria) to be an
American-Polynesian introduction are:

(1) It is widespread and archaeologically attested very early in the

(2) At first European contact it was found in eastern Polynesia
(including Hawaii and New Zealand), but not in western Polynesia or

To expand on these two points:

(1) The question of whether, as Lathrap suggests, the gourd came to
America from Africa at some very early date, seems not to be relevant to
how it got to Polynesia.

(2) The pre-European gourds of western Polynesia and Fiji are a
different species, the wax gourd (Binancasa hispida). On this point see
W.Arthur Whistler, "The other Polynesian gourd", Pacific Science, 44(2):
115-122 (1990). Apparently Lagenaria is well established in New Guinea,
but I have no good information on the rest of Melanesia.

Of course with Lagenaria there has been a lot of argument about the
possibility of natural dispersal by seaborne fruits. There is also a lot
of argument about varieties, eg one researcher claimed that the New
Guinea gourds were more like the African than the Asian types. I don't
know if any more recent genetic work has shed any light on this.

In any case, this looks like at least as promising a candidate as some
of the others on Yuri's list.

But wait, there's more!

I just happened across Edwin N.Ferdon's Early Observations of Marquesan
Culture, 1595-1813 (University of Arizona Press, 1993). One of his major
sources is an English missionary, William Pascoe Crook, who spent 18
months on Tahuata, 1797-99. He was a complete failure as a missionary,
but he wrote an extensive account of the Marquesans and their language,
which, unfortunately, has never been published. (The language portion
has, however, just been published by Steven Roger Fischer of rongorongo
fame.) As it turns out, Crook mentions, according to Ferdon, seven
species of plant as being present which are known to be of American
origin. (I say "according to Ferdon" because Crook was not much of a
naturalist, and some of the identifications are more secure than
others.)  The list is:

	1. Chili pepper (Capsicum)
	2. Cashew (Anacardium)
	3. Pineapple (Ananas)
	4. Soursop (Annona muricata)
	5. Soapberry (Sapindus saponaria)
	6. Sweet potato (Ipomoea)
	7. Cotton (Gossypium)

Now this is more like the sort of evidence we need to make a good case
for these plants -- certainly better than Heyerdahl's speculations in
the 1930s. However, of course, Crook was not the first visitor to these
islands. In his discussion (pp.131 ff.) Ferdon manages to keep a
remarkably open mind -- even about the sweet potato! (He was writing
before the recent archaeological remains were found in the Cook
Islands.)  He points out the real possibility that some or all of them
may have been brought in, deliberately or accidentally, by any of the
various ships from Mendaņa's expedition onward. This is fine. I think
all of these could be added to our list of "maybes".


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