Tracing Domestication and Cultivation of Bananas from Phytoliths: An update from Papua New Guinea


  • Carol J. Lentfer University of Queensland


There is now good evidence from current banana distributions and genetic analysis that Papua New Guinea and nearby regions have played a key role in the domestication of edible Eumusa and Australimusa bananas. Strong support for this also comes from phytoliths in the archaeobotanical record. Seeds have diagnostic phytoliths which can be used to discriminate between the two main sections of edible bananas, the giant banana, Musa ingens, and Ensete. Therefore, the presence of seed phytoliths and their subsequent disappearance from archaeological assemblages can be used to trace processes of domestication leading to parthenocarpy and sterility. Following loss of viable seeds, banana presence can still be documented from phytolith morphotypes from other plant parts, particularly the volcaniform morphotypes from leaves. Nevertheless, according to several pioneer studies, these are more difficult to differentiate unless they occur in regions where certain species or varieties of bananas are not endemic. This paper reviews results from morphometric and morphotypic analyses of Musaceae phytoliths and briefly introduces the ‘New Guinea Banana Project’ which builds upon previous analyses. The morphometric database, combined with a comprehensive set of images, facilitates banana phytolith identification and is another step forward in solving the issues surrounding banana dispersal, cultivation and domestication, especially in the Pacific/New Guinea region.




How to Cite

Lentfer, C. J. (2009). Tracing Domestication and Cultivation of Bananas from Phytoliths: An update from Papua New Guinea. Ethnobotany Research and Applications, 7, 247–270. Retrieved from