Sydney NSW, Australia
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Identification of breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) and South American crops introduced during early settlement of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), as revealed through starch analysis


  • Paloma Berenguer ,
  • Claudia Clavero ,
  • Mónica Saldarriaga-Córdoba,
  • Antonio Rivera-Hutinel,
  • Daniela Seelenfreund,
  • Helene Martinsson-Wallin,
  • Patricia Castañeda,
  • Andrea Seelenfreund 


    Starch residue analysis was carried out on stone tools recovered from the bottom layer of the Anakena site on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). These deposits have been dated to AD 1000–1300 AD and so far, represent the earliest evidence of human settlement on this island. Twenty obsidian tools were analyzed. Analysis of 46 starch grains recovered from 20 obsidian tools from the earliest dated level of the Anakena site on Rapa Nui provides direct evidence for translocation of traditional crop plants at initial stages of the colonization of this island. The analysis of starch grains was based mainly on statistical methods for species identification but was complemented by visual inspection in some cases. Our results identify taxons previously unknown to have been cultivated on the island, such as breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), Zingiber officinale (ginger), and starch grains of the Spondias dulcis and Inocarpus fagifer tropical trees. Additionally, starch grains of Colocasia esculenta (taro) and Dioscorea sp. (yam), both common species in Pacific agriculture, were identified. Furthermore, the presence of four American taxa Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato), Canna sp. (achira), Manihot esculenta (manioc), and Xanthosoma sp., was detected. The occurrence of Canna sp., Mesculenta, and Xanthosoma sp. starch grains suggests the translocation of previously not described South American cultivars into the Pacific. The detection of Ibatatas from this site in Rapa Nui constitutes the earliest record of this cultigen in the Pacific. Our study provides direct evidence for translocation of a set of traditional Polynesian and South American crop plants at the initial stages of colonization in Rapa Nui.

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