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Polynesian plant subsistence in prehistoric New Zealand: a summary of the microfossil evidence

by admin last modified 2008-03-25 02:03 PM

Horrocks M. 2004. New Zealand Journal of Botany 42, 321-334.


Plant microfossils from New Zealand provide direct evidence of prehistoric Polynesian cultivation and gathering of a variety of plants in different depositional settings. The microfossils include pollen, phytoliths, and starch residues of introduced Lagenaria siceraria (bottle gourd), Broussonetia papyrifera (paper mulberry), Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato, kumara), and Colocasia esculenta (taro). The settings span 600 km and include sediment cores, archaeological structures, and coprolites.

In addition, the presence of wetland microfossils (e.g., diatoms and algal spores) in dryland deposits suggests other agricultural practices such as irrigation, and putative truffle (hypogeous Ascomycotina) spores in coprolites suggest foraging for wild plants. Variable production and preservation of different types of plant microremains suggest the value for analysis of pollen, biogenic silica, and starch residues as a combined method for identifying prehistoric plant subsistence at archaeological sites.


Pollen, biogenic silica, starch residues, Polynesian plant subsistence, New Zealand.

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