[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, soc.culture.native _________________________________________________________________ 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 EI... 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 LONG-CONCEALED KEY TO THE ENIGMA OF EASTER ISLAND [Geogr. Journ. 154, # 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. 31) 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 agriculture. 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 3? 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. Regards, Yuri. Yuri Kuchinsky -=O=- 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.