Textile Banana and Isotope-Based Analysis: Assessing the Merits of Geochemical Methods on Musa spp. Fiber-Based Ethnographic Textile and Craft Production in the Philippines and Taiwan

Cherubim Quizon1, Saskia Ryan2, Anna Pineda3, Celine Emmanuelle Kerfant4

1Seton Hall University, U.S.A.

2National Museum of Natural History, France

3 University of the Philippines, Philippines

4University Pompeu Fabra, Spain

The geographical dispersal of textiles using various species of banana (Musa spp.) has been documented using ethnographic, linguistic and museum methods in Southeast Asia. The most established species used in textile production that produces the longest and strongest usable fibre is found in the Philippines where it is called abaca (Musa textilis). Apart from superior strength and length of usable fibre, thread prepared from banana, does not require spinning, presenting implications for inferring the presence and absence of cloth production in archaeological contexts. Recent genome-based research established that abaca is endemic to the Philippines, while ethnographically, other banana species are used for ceremonial textiles in the Ryukus/Okinawa (Musa balbisiana), and in basket production in Lanyu and Batanes (Musa insularimontana, Musa textilis). Archaeological textile finds in Banton, Central Philippines with a relative date of 960 - 1644 CE possess a fibre and weave structure identical to contemporary abaca loom woven cloth in Mindanao and to a lesser extent, Okinawa. Phytolith preserved on lithic tools in Sangihe and Talaud also suggest the use of banana fibres at 35-22 kya. These patterns suggest a previously unexplored multi-site cultural complexity organized around Musa spp. In this study, we explored the merit and applicability of isotope-based methods for textile and craft banana using fibre samples collected from six field sites in the Philippines and Taiwan. All samples were collected within the context of established ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological research in sites of their known manufacture identified at the village level. These could provide baseline levels for understanding contemporary clustering of Musa samples. Moreover, we propose that the use of strontium isotopes (87Sr/86Sr) from modern plant material, particularly Musa spp., has the potential to expand our understanding of plant and human relations beyond food production.