Monday, October 3, 2016

Marijuana and Hops Were Cultivated In 4th Century BCE Madagascar

Established dates show definite human agricultural activity [in Madagascar] during the 5th century BC, with Cannabis and Humulus (Hops) visible in palynology assemblages.
From here relying on [1] (a source which cites a 4th century BCE date rather than a 5th century BCE date).

The 4th century BCE pre-dates the usually hypothesized dates at which the first Austronesians arrived (about 500-1000 years later), although it isn't clear if the previous population was viable enough to last until then. The previous population apparently had less ecological impact on the island than the Austronesians and little genetic impact on the subsequent population which was a mix of Austronesians (ultimately originating in Borneo) and East Africans.

This is mind-blowing because the usual interpretation of the pre-Austronesian population of Madgascar is that it was made up of people who unintentionally ended up there after being cast about in a storm who regressed from a possibly agriculturalist or herder origins to a foraging lifestyle. But, cultivation of these crops, neither of which is native to Madagascar, would suggest either an intentional colonization effort by nearby Africans from the coast for which there is no other archaeological evidence of long distance maritime trade, or perhaps by Yemeni and Somalian sea farers who were the first to conduct long time maritime trade in the Indian Ocean, mostly on a circuit that linked Mesopotamia with the Indus River Valley civilization with the Ethiopian coast.

In a related development, a recent paper on archaeobotany notes that Austronesians also settled the island of Comoros (which lies between East Africa and Madagascar) and probably settled it before they settled Madagascar.

Incidentally, palynology is a discipline whose most common activity according to a Google definition (the boundaries are the subject of ongoing disciplinary turf wars), is the study of pollen grains and spores, especially as found in archaeological or geological deposits.

[1] Burney, D. A; et al., "A chronology for late prehistoric Madagascar" Journal of Human Evolution. 47. pp.25- 63 (2004).

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