[LATER NOTE (Aug 23, '98): Much of the argumentation in this post is
really quite obsolete by now, because much more information about the
botanical evidence has been posted since 1998/07/30 (see previous 
articles on this page). The list of South American crops on EI has more 
than doubled by now. Accordingly, the scholarly sins of Dr. Bahn in not 
taking all that evidence into consideration have also more that doubled. 
Nevertheless, some of the following info is still relevant.]

   Easter Island humbugs of Paul Bahn
   Author:   Yuri Kuchinsky
   Date: 1998/07/30
   Forums: sci.archaeology, sci.anthropology, rec.arts.books,


Greetings, all,

To continue, let's now look at the abundant botanical evidence that
indicates links between the Easter Island and South America. Dr. Paul
Bahn's obfuscations and equivocations in this area are quite remarkable.
So let's deal with them one by one.

A whole array of SA crops has been suggested by various scholars as being
present on EI before the Europeans made their contact in 1722. In this
article, I will consider only the following,

-       sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)
-       manioc (tapioca/cassava = Manihot)
-       achira (Canna edulis)
-       chili peppers (Capsicum)

These have been discussed already in sci.arch, so I will review these old
discussions for now.

The evidence for the sweet potato (kumara) is abundant, since it was the
main food crop on EI. But it is also present elsewhere in Polynesia. It
seems like nobody among mainstream scholars has offered a clear hypothesis
as to how kumara got to EI, or even to any other place in Polynesia. And
yet it is generally considered as a good candidate to indicate contacts
between Polynesia and SA.

There's a lot of strange fudging and equivocation going on in this area...
It seems like our mainstream scholars still insist on playing
hide-and-seek with kumara. Everyone says this indicates some at least
indirect EI -- SA contact, but nobody is willing to offer a reasonable
historical scenario explaining how and when it got out to Polynesia and to

I have some recent quite useful info on this subject that I will post
separately later. This is an important subject in its own right.

But now, let's look at the case of the manioc (Manihot), also known as
cassava, a very useful crop plant native to S. America. It is a tropical
tuber propagated by stem cuttings, and it was domesticated by Amerindians
in ancient times.

First, a bit of historical background. In 1770, the viceroy of Peru, Don
Manuel de Amat, sent out an expedition of two ships under the command of
Felipe Gonzalez y Haedo to look for the mysterious island reported by the
Dutch previously. Gonzalez claimed the island for Spain. His expedition
spent 6 days on the island, and they left detailed records of what they
found there.

Among a number of other food crops, the expedition records tell us, the
islanders cultivated _yuka_. The word yuka is the term for manioc in
various indigenous languages of Peru and other Central and South American
countries, and this plant would have been surely known to the members of
the expedition quite well.

This is what Thor Heyerdahl writes in his EASTER ISLAND: THE MYSTERY
SOLVED, 1989:

"When the documents of the Gonzalez expedition were translated into
English and published by the prominent British scholar Bolton G. Corney in
1908, he was so dumbfounded at finding a reference to S. American yuca on
Easter Island prior to European influence, that he concealed or obfuscated
the evidence of manioc. In one instance he rendered the word yuca
erroneously as "taro"; in three others he left it untranslated, adding
erroneous footnotes confusing the readers. Not until 1986 did a Spanish
scholar Francisco Mellen Blanco revise and bring together all the
documents from the Gonzalez expedition, and in 1988 Robert Langdon of the
Australian National University caused a sensation in the scientific world
by publishing in THE GEOGRAPHIC JOURNAL a paper entitled MANIOC: A
3(Nov. 1988), pp. 324-336, London]. According to Langdon, Corney in his
translation acted as he did because, in the climate of his times, he
simply could not believe that manioc could have reached Easter Island
prior to European influence. Langdon's conclusion was that the fact that
manioc was clearly reported as cultivated on that Polynesian island in
1770 'greatly strengthens the case for prehistoric American Indian
influence on Easter Island and other islands of eastern Polynesia'". (p.

To me, this seems like undeniable historical evidence. Who would like to
deny it, and why?

Well, Paul Bahn would like to deny it. And his obfuscations here are on
the whole rather transparent. First he says, in a very dismissive way,
that these 1770 reports of manioc on EI were merely the reports of "a
couple of 18th-century Spanish pilots" (pp. 53).

How did he figure this one out? This was an official Spanish expedition
arriving on two ships. Surely among them there would have been enough
people knowledgeable about agriculture? Many of their leaders would have
been from the upper class landowning families quite familiar with

Next, Bahn tries to make much hay out of the fact that Captain Cook's
botanist, George Foster, did not record manioc on the island four years
later. But this is using evidence very selectively.

Because we will need to put this evidence recorded by Foster into its
proper context. When Cook arrived, the Easter Island was in big trouble.
It was racked by civil war. Agriculture was in shambles, the population
was starving, and Cook's expedition was even unable to replenish their own
supplies, in spite of the fact that they would have been able to offer
plenty of valuable trade goods in return. The situation on the island was
so unstable that Cook's people only made 2 visits ashore. Why would one
expect that they would have been able to inform themselves adequately
about EI agriculture under such conditions?

Besides, Foster also omitted to record another important EI crop, the
gourd, that was generally agreed to have been on EI at that time.

So it seems to me that there's no good reason to doubt the plant
identifications made by the Spanish expedition.

Now, what Bahn _does not even mention_ in his book (speaking about using
evidence very selectively!), is achira, another important marker of EI --
SA contacts. Because the Spanish expedition also noted the presence of
this crop on EI. Achira (Canna edulis) is a native S. American plant. This
is a starchy root crop quite important in Andean agriculture. Why is Bahn
silent about achira? Heyerdahl's 1989 book that Bahn lists in his
bibliography, and that he presumably has read, does mention achira!

Kumara, manioc, and achira, taken together, make a pretty good case for
contact in my view.

But let's look at one more item, the chili pepper. Again, this is a native
American plant, and, again, this item has been recorded on EI in 1770 by
the Spanish. Bahn is aware of this. So how does Dr. Bahn dispose of this
witness? You may have guessed... again it was a "misidentification",
according to him... And, again he relies here on negative evidence. He
cites the absence of chili in Foster's record. The above arguments I've
given for manioc will answer this as well.

But there's something else that is quite curious in Bahn's dismissal of
chili. According to him, some (as usually unnamed) commentators suggested
that the Spanish may have confused chilies with another EI plant. These
shadowy commentators,

"...suggested that it [chili] was probably confused with the indigenous
plant Solanum whose native name of poporo or poroporo is also applied to
the chili peppers now growing on the island." (Bahn, p. 52)

Now, this I find most curious. What kind of an "indigenous plant Solanum"
is Bahn talking about here? Because EI has very, very few indigenous
plants (mostly wild grasses). None of the indigenous plants of EI, to the
best of my knowledge, are edible plants that could have been offered to
the Spanish...

This mysterious plant X is Solanum? Let's investigate along those lines.
So this is a member of the family Solanaceae?

This is what my reference check came up with:

Potato or nightshade family (Solanaceae). The family has about 3,000
species worldwide; most are found in tropical America. The family includes
some very valuable food plants including the tomatoes, bell peppers, and
ground cherries as well as harmful or poisonous plants including tobacco,
jimsonweed, henbane, and belladonna. The genus Solanum contains about
2,000 species.

So it seems like this mysterious plant X that could be easily confused
with chili also most likely came from America, since this is the main
centre of diversity for Solanaceae? Yes, this is a most strange refutation
from Paul Bahn...

So what's going on here with this botanical evidence? What kind of
pseudo-scientific nonsense is Dr. Bahn supplying for us? Perhaps he thinks
that his equivocations can cover up the historical truth for very long?

Do I need to remind people that these botanical arguments are
_cumulative_? And this means that one argument will tend to reinforce the
others. Even one shared crop is enough to establish SA -- EI contact. But
if there are a number of such crops, even if the arguments for each do not
establish a 100% probability, but only, let's say, 75% probability, two or
three such arguments _taken together_ will establish the 100% probability
that is desired.

I certainly think the Spanish could not have been so incompetent as to
make 3 such big mistakes in plant identification. One mistake, maybe, but

It does seem to me that these pathetic obfuscations and special pleading
of Dr. Bahn only indicate his lack of both scientific objectivity, and of
professional competence.



Yuri Kuchinsky -=O=- [21]http://www.globalserve.net/~yuku  UPDATED

It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than
to put out on the troubled seas of thought -=O=- John K. Galbraith

Click here to go one level up in the directory.