Going Bananas in Papua New Guinea: A preliminary study of starch granule morphotypes in Musaceae fruit

Carol J. Lentfer


Starch granules can be well preserved in a variety of archaeological contexts, for example, in residues and sediments. Therefore, starch analysis has potential to provide another means of tracking the exploitation, dispersal and domestication of Musa bananas and Ensete. Starch granule morphotypes from fruits of Ensete glaucum and wild and cultivated Australimusa and Eumusa bananas were analyzed in this preliminary study. Numerous starch granule morphotypes were present in every sample analyzed. One hundred and nine morphotypes, representing 38 morphotype groups (variants) were described. Of these, several are specific to the samples analyzed and others occurred in more than one sample. They can be used to discriminate between different genera, sections, species and cultivars. Raphides were also numerous in wild Australimusa bananas. Although additional studies are required to determine levels of specificity, this preliminary study shows that starch analysis (and raphide presence and abundance) can be used in a similar way to phytolith analysis in the identification of Musaceae and has extremely good potential as a tool for tracing the prehistory of bananas in the archaeological record.

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Ethnobotany Research and Applications (ISSN 1547-3465) is published online by the Department of Ethnobotany, Institute of Botany, Ilia State University.
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