The Archaeobotany of Vegetative Domestication

Tim Denham1 & Huw Barton2

1Australian National University, Australia

2Leicester University, United Kingdom

Despite their significance to the diets of hundreds of millions of people who inhabit the wet tropical and subtropical regions of the Indo-Pacific, the domestication histories of most vegetatively propagated field and tree crops are poorly documented. Some exceptions include the major cultivar groups of banana and plantain (Musa cvs.) and breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), for which the geodomestication histories have been reconstructed with some degree of confidence from multidisciplinary evidence. For most vegetatively propagated crops in the Indo-Pacific, conceptual ambiguities and methodological constraints hinder taxonomic identification and the discrimination of wild versus cultivated phenotypes in the archaeobotanical record. Here, we assess the current state of archaeobotanical knowledge for the domestication of several, regionally significant food plants – including alocasias (Alocasia spp.), bananas/plantains (Musa cvs.), breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum), swamp sago (Metroxylon sagu), taro (Colocasia esculenta) and yams (Dioscorea spp.). We highlight future directions for the investigation of vegetatively propagated plants in the past, including their cultivation and domestication.