Banana Cultivation in South Asia and East Asia: A review of the evidence from archaeology and linguistics

Dorian Q. Fuller, Marco Madella


South Asia provides evidence for introduced banana cultivars that are surprisingly early in the Indus Valley but late elsewhere in India. Although phytolith data are still limited, systematic samples from fourteen sites in six regions suggest an absence of bananas from most of Neolithic/Chalcolithic South Asia, but presence in part of the Indus valley. Evidence from textual sources and historical linguistics from South Asia and from China suggest the major diffusion of banana cultivars was in the later Iron Age or early historic period, c. 2000 years ago. Nevertheless Harappan period phytolith evidence from Kot Diji, suggests some cultivation by the late third or early second millennium B.C., and the environmental context implies hybridization with Musa balbisiana Colla had already occurred. Evidence of wild banana seeds from an early Holocene site in Sri Lanka probably attests to traditions of utilisation of M. balbisiana, a plausible area for hybridization with cultivated Musa acuminata Colla bananas, perhaps already being moved by the later third millennium B.C. Hybridization here, and/or in the New Guinea area now seems more plausible than hybridization in northern Southeast Asia (from Burma through Eastern India) as Simmonds had hypothesized. 

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