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No. 9: Winter 1979

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The Ancient Dispersal Of Useful Plants

George F. Carter, a noted geographer, summarizes the botanical evidence for early transoceanic voyages.

Domestic cotton. Thousands of years old in the Americas; believed to be a hybrid between New World wild cotton and species from southwest Africa.

Bottle gourds. Of African origin but known in Peru about 11,000 years ago; dispersible by ocean currents but appeared in Peru only after humans learned how to navigate on the oceans.

Sweet potatoes. A New World plant that has been known in Polynesia for at least 500 years; but the South American name for the sweet potato (kumara) turns out to be a Sanskrit word from India, which is most perplexing.

Coconuts. Arrived in the Americas from the Indian Ocean region via Polynesia; can be dispersed by ocean currents, but this long eastward voyage would have been counter to many currents.

Peanuts. Well-established on the Peruvian coast thousands of years ago, but the same variety was known in preShang China before 1500 BC.

(Carter, George F.; "Kilmer's Law: Plant Evidence of Early Voyages," Oceans, 12:8, 1979.)

Reference. Our Handbook Ancient Man contains much more evidence for Precolumbian contacts with the New World. Information on this large volume is located at: here.

From Science Frontiers #9, Winter 1979. 1979-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987