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Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and banana (Musa sp.) microfossils in deposits from the Kona Field System, Island of Hawaii

by Mark Horrocks last modified 2009-03-06 04:06 PM

Horrocks M, Rechtman RB. 2009. Journal of Archaeological Science 36, 1115-1126.


Analysis of plant microfossils (pollen, phytoliths, starch grains and xylem cells) was carried out on 12 soil samples from a variety of pre-contact archaeological features in South Kona within a portion of what has been termed the Kona Field System, on the Island of Hawaii. The oldest radiocarbon ages of the sampled deposits are 1300-1625 AD and 1310-1470 AD.

The pollen and phytolith evidence suggests a change from more to less trees and shrubs in the area as a result of human activity. We found phytoliths of banana (Musa sp.) leaves in most and starch grains and xylem cells of tuberous roots of c.f. sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) in all of the samples, suggesting that the sampled features were associated with these crops and that both crops were cultivated intensively within the study area. Higher concentrations (volumetric) of starch and xylem in samples from older deposits suggest that cultivation was more intensive then. The apparent absence of starch and xylem remains of other tuberous crops archaeologically identified elsewhere in Polynesia suggests that tuberous cropping within the study area was mono-specific.


Polynesian horticulture, plant microfossils, introduced crops, Ipomoea batatas, Musa, Kona Field System, Hawaii.

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