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Scientists Solve Mystery of World-Traveling Plant

samzenpus posted about 5 months ago | from the long-journey dept.

Earth 52

sciencehabit writes "By land or by sea? That's the question scientists have been pondering for decades when it comes to the bottle gourd, a plant with a hard-skinned fruit that's used by cultures all over the world to make lightweight containers and other tools. Archaeologists know that people were using domesticated bottle gourds in the Americas as early as 10,000 years ago. But how did the plant make the jump from its original home in Africa to the New World with an ocean in the way? A new study overturns previous evidence pointing to a human-assisted land migration and concludes that the bottle gourd floated across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas on its own."

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52 comments

Fungus is not a plant! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213303)

Else I could grow food between my toes!

Re:Fungus is not a plant! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213403)

That hasn't stopped RMS from cultivating toe jam and jelly not from a general store.

Bottle Gourds (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 5 months ago | (#46215055)

...probably got here the same way the Indians did: From asia, land bridge or very short boat trip, carried as seeds or seedlings. The ocean wasn't in the way, or much in the way, at that point.

Remember, there are no "native americans." Africans. Every single one of us.

Re:Bottle Gourds (1)

flyneye (84093) | about 5 months ago | (#46216523)

Lets also recall we have FOUND evidence of Minoans( a settlement in New Hampshire), Romans( galley sunk off Fla), Celts( Ogam language written on rocks @ river forks) Vikings, Chinese( hand carved anchor stones along West coast from California to S. America) and others. I suppose one or more of them brought gourds.

Re: Fungus is not a plant! It's beta! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213559)

Beta is so awful it burns.

Incomplete research perhaps? (4, Funny)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | about 5 months ago | (#46213319)

Did they really investigate the theory that it was carried by a swallow?

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (4, Funny)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 5 months ago | (#46213335)

african or european swallow?

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213363)

Laden or unladen ?

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (2)

jc42 (318812) | about 5 months ago | (#46213529)

Clearly laden in this case, though even for a swallow a squash/gourd seed isn't much of a load.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213375)

Butt fuck or Beta?

mod up parent (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46215083)

Truly hilarious.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (2)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 5 months ago | (#46216227)

Irrelevant, there isn't enough fibrous husk on the bottle gourd for a swallow (or pair thereof) to grip on to.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213357)

Did they really investigate the theory that it was carried by a swallow?

Don't forget sea men :p

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213381)

Are you suggesting that a tiny little swallow lofted a bottle gourd across an ocean? It would take a small flock of swallows harnessed to a gourd, and even then they could only sustain flight for an hour or so. And where would they have gotten a harness tens of thousands of ago? And why have no bottle gourd swallow harnesses been discovered in the fossil record??

Now pigeons. Pigeons could do it. At least for the smaller oceans. But that still doesn't explain WHY they should gather together and haul a heavy, water laden gourd hither and yon. They don't nest in gourds you know.

Swallows. LOL.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46214655)

It's simple, they knew that without the civilization of man there would be no statues, vehicles or other venerated objects to poop on. Thus the pigeons gave us a little help in any way they could. One of those ways was to provide us with the many tools that can be made from the bottle gourd.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (1)

MrKevvy (85565) | about 5 months ago | (#46213677)

Follow the gourd!

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 5 months ago | (#46215065)

Sandal, you heretic.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (1)

s.petry (762400) | about 5 months ago | (#46213689)

They gave a bunch of crap and claimed to know the answer. Typical "science" lately, I guess.

They believe based on DNA that the gourds in the Americas are more similar to African gourds than Asian. That's something, but they can't explain the Asian gourds or origin. So I'm not sure how they can claim to know that the gourds traveled by Ocean, when we have humans that traveled further back than 10,000 years.

I guess if you assume that nobody could boat back then, they would be on to something. Vessels made specifically for sea fairing fit within that 10,000 year time frame, but we have no idea when the first small boats were used.

I see this as more bias in Science. Many people swear that Columbus was the first person in America still today, ignoring the population that was already living and thriving here for thousands of years before that. People still doubt that Vikings made it to the US even though materials have been found that sure look and date Viking. And of course you can't mention the Neanderthal remains that have been found mixed in with other "native" people's dating back much further than 10,000 years in Canada and the US.

It seems like "science" want's you to believe that up until the white European everyone was sub-human and had trouble simply banging sticks together. Ten minutes of study on Sumeria should get you questioning this teaching.

In summary, they speculate that the only way for a gourd to get to the US was by drifting on the ocean. People were too stupid to even accidentally travel across the ocean. The lack of fingerprints on fossilized gourds is proof positive that they are right. (hopefully you can detect sarcasm)

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (0)

cusco (717999) | about 5 months ago | (#46213937)

Ten thousand years ago they were mostly rafts, rather than boats, but people were definitely using them on the open sea. Hell, 60,000 years ago they made it to Australia, well out of sight of land for most of the trip across a straight with very strong currents and foul weather. The question about the African bottle gourd is that the thing has been domesticated for so long that it can't reproduce reliably without help. The seeds never sprout because water never gets to them unless it is broken open. For the gourd to make it all the way across the Atlantic without being eaten en route (not likely) it would have had to wash up somewhere higher than the normal high tide where it wouldn't be poisoned by the salt water. Then it would have to break open, be buried deep enough to grow (gourds don't grow on the surface), and have fruit.

Now some enterprising local has to see the gourd, recognize it, and decide to cultivate it (at a time when almost nothing else was cultivated). This has to happen in the first, or maybe second, generation after the plant's almost miraculous survival. I can much more easily believe people carrying them across the ocean than I can believe an accidental migration.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 5 months ago | (#46225483)

60,000 years ago in the middle of the last glaciation (ice age) sea level was about 120 meters (400 feet) lower than it is today. The original Australians probably walked most of the way and may not have had crossings that got out of sight of land. After all humans got to the Americas by walking across the Bering land bridge.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (1)

cusco (717999) | about 5 months ago | (#46225937)

From what I've read the Australian continent never joined the rest of the continents since the breakup of Gonwandaland, which is the reason for the survival of the isolated marsupials. The introduction of placental mammals to Australia, first humans, later dogs, then finally rats, Englishmen and rabbits, is devastating the less biologically-efficient marsupials. Flores Island, in the southern reach of Indonesia, has never been joined to the mainland either, but hosted populations of dwarf rhino dwarf elephants in addition to two species of Homo long before the invention of the boat. Australia was too far for the rhino, elephant and Homo Florensis.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 5 months ago | (#46226329)

Australia may have never been joined to Asia as you say but the reduced sea level would have considerably reduced the width of the straits they had to cross.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213981)

It seems like "science" want's you to believe that up until the white European everyone was sub-human and had trouble simply banging sticks together.

I really can't imagine why you believe this. The fact that vikings reached the East coast of North America is widely known today and no one of substance has any issue with it. The hoi polloi that consumes any amount of pop-sci media is well aware of it because it has appeared frequently in news reports, documentaries and books.

Sure, there are lots of folks that haven't learned anything new since the sixties. That's not "bias in Science."

Many people swear that Columbus was the first person in America still today

Cite someone that isn't a bonehead blogger or poaster in some forum. We're all perfectly well aware of native Americans and all the myriad injustices and deprivations they've been subjected to, so we spend our energies on squabbling over the names of our football teams ('redskins') because we've basically achieved paradise with precious little left to squabble about. I think your "many people" is a straw man.

Certainly no actual scientists around today believe Europeans were the first inhabitants of the Americas. In fact, that's never been true. Please cite for me one single bit of accredited science anywhere in history that has, as its premise, an uninhabited American continent on the arrival of Europeans.

This world of endemic eurocentric biased science is a fiction that exists inside your head. If anything, we've been vigorously purging our science of such bias with a self-loathing zeal.

Re:Incomplete research perhaps? (1)

s.petry (762400) | about 5 months ago | (#46219033)

I really can't imagine why you believe this. The fact that vikings reached the East coast of North America is widely known today and no one of substance has any issue with it.

What? I never claimed to have that belief, and if you go back and read again what I wrote you will see why I mentioned it. It's that people are taught something different from what we know to be true, or given a completely different perception based on not teaching specific things we know.

Cite someone that isn't a bonehead blogger or poaster in some forum

Well there spelling champ, go read public school curriculum. My complaint was not just that what people are taught is wrong or right, it's that people are taught bias to further someone's political agenda. Don't insert your own extreme value into that. For example, if you convince people that Columbus was a hero that rescued the indigenous people from a life of drudgery and inevitable death due to ignorance, it makes the slaughtering of millions of native people much easier to swallow and normalize. Teaching that the Pilgrims and Indians got together and had a nice Thanksgiving dinner lessens the reality of events back then.

Sure, in College you can learn a different "science" and a different message. The obvious problem is that one bias seems to often be traded for another bias.

Reading their science gives me no compelling reason to believe that it had to be the ocean that migrated the gourds over someone carrying them. People lived in both locations during the time periods described, so either is valid. They claim "fact" but I fail to see any facts at all. The DNA evidence shows a relationship between the two gourds, but does not show "how" a gourd traveled over the ocean.

Your and their hypothetical "they would not have carried the gourds" would imply that they did not understand very basic agriculture. Plant A = good food and over there it does not exist, so lets move some good food seeds from here to there. Plant B makes a great container, and we don't have these over there either.

That hypothesis works if you assume that there was no possible way people could have been skilled enough to cross a body of water intentinoally. The knowledge of the stars possessed by the Sumerian's actually demonstrates that navigation may have been possible. Boat building is a big question mark for sure, but ancient Egypt was not doing poorly in that area and the knowledge they had for larger ships demonstrates prior knowledge.

Last I checked, "Science" required indisputable proof in order to claim something as fact. In this case, there is no such proof. This is not any great revelation, because lots of science lately has been anything but science.

Some ancient astronaut theorist believe ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213343)

I'm not saying it was Aliens, but ...

Re:Some ancient astronaut theorist believe ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46282785)

Ah yes, the H2 answer to the question.

Ancient (3, Interesting)

tom229 (1640685) | about 5 months ago | (#46213345)

Aliens.

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213347)

Message in a bottle gourd.

Re:Obligatory (1)

Scarletdown (886459) | about 5 months ago | (#46214909)

How long ago did the bottle gourd we know today evolve into its present form? Could it have made it to what would later become the Americas before Pangaea broke up?

Re:Obligatory (3, Informative)

cusco (717999) | about 5 months ago | (#46215071)

No, the bottle gourd exists in its present form because it has been domesticated for so long. It may well be the first domesticated plant, domesticated so long in fact that it only reproduces in the wild with great difficulty. The shell is so impervious to water that seeds don't get watered until the pod finally rots a year or more later, by which time the seeds are no longer viable.

Re:Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46216999)

It may well be the first domesticated plant, domesticated so long in fact that it only reproduces in the wild with great difficulty.

Anyone else wondering what qualifies as a "domesticated plant"? Is that a plant that can be house broken and doesnt randomly attack its owner?

Re:Obligatory (1)

parkinglot777 (2563877) | about 5 months ago | (#46218363)

How about a plant that cannot grow/germinate but rather die easily in local area (in the nature). So you domesticate it by growing it in your house, and it could adjust to grow normally and not die easily?

Re:Obligatory (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 5 months ago | (#46225551)

A domesticated plant (or animal for that matter) is one that has been grown purposely by humans for a long enough time that selective breeding has accentuated characteristics that make it more beneficial to humans.

The mystery of Beta (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213355)

It is a mystery for what abomination of a user experience it was designed for. Scientists will be sleuthing for years!!

By swallow (1)

the 0x (2883849) | about 5 months ago | (#46213477)

I'm pretty sure this was settled by monty python... the swallows carry them!

Re:By swallow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213577)

Your thinking of coconuts.

Gourds were primarily transported by religious fanatics.

Re:By swallow (1)

uvajed_ekil (914487) | about 5 months ago | (#46214719)

Are you suggesting that gourds migrate?

Message in a Bottle Gourd (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46213657)

Walked out this morning. Don't believe what I saw. A hundred billion gourds washed up on the shore. Sending out their DNA.

Re:Message in a Bottle Gourd (0)

gander666 (723553) | about 5 months ago | (#46214051)

Damn, wish I had mod points...

Tsunami (4, Interesting)

retroworks (652802) | about 5 months ago | (#46213683)

How often do tsunamis happen, and how big do they get? Japanese gourds wound up all over the North American Pacific beaches. http://www.npr.org/2013/02/06/... [npr.org]

Aliens (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 5 months ago | (#46214015)

Its always the answer to the unanswerable.

Re:Aliens (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about 5 months ago | (#46214111)

And it creates less controversy than "God did it."

Maybe a swallow did it... (2)

bioneuralnet (1473843) | about 5 months ago | (#46214049)

"Are you suggesting that bottle gourds migrate?"

For their next trick ... (1)

TheCrig (3178) | about 5 months ago | (#46214755)

... they'll explain why, other than south of the diagonal from New Jersey to east Texas, Oregon is the only place in the U.S. to find kudzu.

Re:For their next trick ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46216503)

North Dakota now too.

What kind of swallow? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46215823)

African or European? Or are you saying it was an Atlantic swallow that carried those?

Not a new idea, probably not correct either. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46217391)

This idea is not news - it has been around for a long time - and it is probably not correct either.

The problem: if the gourds floated across to the new world and washed up on a beach, the seeds could not grow in the sand. They need a richer substrate to grow and reproduce; beach sand will not do it. How they might have ended up in the kind of rich soil they need is still unexplained.

Re:Not a new idea, probably not correct either. (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 5 months ago | (#46225579)

Maybe some of them went up a river on the incoming tide and found some nice river silt to germinate in. Or maybe some happened to get washed far enough inland on a storm surge. There's lots of possibilities and lots of time for something uncommon to happen.

So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46217507)

Scientists figured out that gourds float. Thanks for the update, I had this one figured out when I was 5.

Anyone else think... (1)

orlanz (882574) | about 5 months ago | (#46217947)

That this was about a factory? When I first read the title, I thought along the lines of "Travelling Salesman Problem" and that this was about moving the production efficiently close to the consumption. I was so upbeat and summarily crushed upon reading the first sentence. Article is still good, but wrong expectations. Its going to be one of those days....

mEOH MYoH (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46218131)

I brought them over in a fanny pack when I migrated as a paleolithic farmer from my home in the Eurasian steppes, or perhaps from my home in the Americas to France 7000 YBP

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