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Quick Story and more....

See some of my Quick Gourd History lessons on YouTube.  Start with

HISTORY OF GOURDS -- Gourds originate from Africa not Asia!


Until recently the origin of bottle gourds in North America was a mystery.  There were differing hypotheses about when they appeared and where they came from.  In 2005, research came from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluding that bottle gourds in the Americas were closer genetically to Asian varieties, so ancient peoples who migrated across the Bering land bridge more than 10,000 years ago must have taken gourd seeds with them. However, the theory was not perfect.  One trouble was that the theory meant a plant that had thrived in tropical climates had to have been cultivated in colder North American lands.  


However, in 2014 research coming from NAS again, but using new, highly sophisticated genetic testing methods, found a more definitive answer.  This time it clearly showed African origins for the gourd.  “The technology has come an incredibly long way since the 2005 study, so now we can look at this question in a lot more detail,” said the lead scientist of the study at Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Logan Kistler. 


The origin issue was settled by recreating the plant’s family tree; the researchers isolated DNA taken from modern bottle gourds around the world and ancient ones found at nine archaeological sites throughout the Americas.  The pre-Columbian artifacts from the New World, they found, were linked directly to African relatives.  They concluded gourds must have floated to the Americas on their own but were then modified by indigenous peoples in the New World. Popular press notices of Kistler and Smith’s work abound.  One example – Watson, Traci.  How the Humble Bottle Gourd Got to the New World.  USA Today, February 10, 2014.   


Several important insights were gained from this work on the question of gourd origin.  In fact, given the age and evolution of genetic material, both Genus Cucurbita and Lagenaria, are now considered some of the oldest domesticated plants in the world. 


To double-check the conclusion that gourds floated across the Atlantic Ocean, the team created a computer model of Atlantic Ocean currents. Next, the team ran computer models showing what happens to gourds bobbing in the sea off Africa. A good number made it to South America after less than a year, a voyage short enough for the gourd seeds to still sprout after making landfall.   “The gourd,” Dr. Logan Kistler said, remains "enigmatic."  "It's so widespread so early on, and it's used so cross-culturally.”  "We have much more to learn about this species."


The source scientific study for the ocean voyage is: Kistler, Logan; Smith, Bruce D; et al. Transoceanic drift and the domestication of African bottle gourds in the Americas.  Department of Anthropology and Institutes of Energy and the Environment, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  February 25, 2014.  


--Mark Thompson, August 2023. 

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