Notes on Economic Plants
A Contribution to the Prehistory of Domesticated Bottle Gourds
in Asia: Rind Measurements from Jomon Japan and Neolithic
Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London, WC1H 0PY, UK
Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto, Japan; e-mail: Leo_Aoi@chikyu.ac.jp
Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relics, Hangzhou, China;
School of Archaeology and Museology, Peking University, Beijing, China; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Corresponding author; e-mail: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Key Words: Lagenaria siceraria, archaeobotany, domestication, Neolithic, Jomon, Hemudu,
Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standley, the
bottle gourd, has been of considerable archaeo-
logical interest in both hemispheres, as it is the
only cultivated plant species that is unambigu-
ously present in both Early Holocene America
and Asia. This is true despite the evidence that
true wild bottle gourds, like their congeneric
relatives, are restricted to southern Africa
(Decker-Walters et al. 2004). Finds from the
Windover site in Florida were the ﬁrst to be
directly dated to 7290 B.P./ca. 6200–6100 B.C.
E. (Doran et al. 1990), and since then bottle
gourd seeds and rind fragments from several other
sites have been directly dated (Erickson et al.
2005). Recent genetic studies, including ancient
DNA from prehistoric American gourds, suggest
that bottle gourds of the New World represent a
subset of genetic variation derived from bottle
gourds in Eastern Asia (Erickson et al. 2005).
Early Holocene archaeological ﬁnds in both
Mesoamerica and North America imply that this
species must have been dispersed to the Americas
with humans, presumably via the Bering Straits.
This further implies that human propagation of
this species, if not systematic cultivation, had
begun among hunter-gatherer populations in Asia
prior to the colonization of the Americas.
This in turn raises the likelihood that bottle
gourds were already cultivated before the Early
Holocene era, that is, before the period
associated with early food production and crop
cultivation in East Asia. Erickson et al. (2005)
demonstrated that prehistoric gourds in America
had thick, domesticated-type rinds as opposed to
the thinner rinds associated with modern wild
African gourds. Wild African gourds are reported
to have rind thicknesses of 1–1.5 mm, while the
inferred domesticated prehistoric American
gourds, mainly preserved through desiccation,
had consistently thicker rinds, mainly from
3 mm to 5 mm thick with a mode of ca.
4 mm. This being the case, it can be suggested
that bottle gourds carried from East Asia to
America in prehistory were already domesticated,
in the sense of having been selected for thick-
ened rind by comparison to their African wild
progenitor. This implies, therefore, that the
bottle gourd was spread by human propagation
from Africa to Asia at an even earlier Pleistocene
period. Older interpretations of bottle gourd
history assumed that it spread from Africa to
other continents by ﬂoating on ocean currents
Received 18 June 2009; accepted 6 May 2010;
published online 22 June 2010
Economic Botany, 64(3), 2010, pp. 260–265.
© 2010, by The New York Botanical Garden Press, Bronx, NY 10458-5126 U.S.A.