Thursday, June 07, 2007

The origins of kumara

We think of kumara as a New Zealand, or at least Pacific food. But like other potatos it actually comes from South America. For a long time anthropologists and historians have speculated that the Polynesians must have, at some stage, made the three week voyage from Easter Island to Peru in order for kumara to have entered the Pacific food chain - but there's been no proof of it (other than the fact that there's kumara in the Pacific). Until now, that is. A New Zealand team has shown, with carbon dating and DNA testing, that Polynesians visited South America sometime around 1385 (give or take a couple of half-lives). We know this because they left their chickens - which don't fly or swim, and usually travel by waka as an in-flight meal - behind. Of course, we don't know that they took kumara back with them - but its about as strong a case as you get in this field, and its nice to see it confirmed.

Correction: Kumara is apparently not a potato.


Potato pedant time - like the kumara, spuds certainly did originate from South America, but botanically speaking the kumara isn't a potato.

Potatoes are members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae, while kumaras belong to the entirely unrelated Ipomoea, the largest genus in the family Convolvulaceae, which includes morning glories and the dreaded convolvulus.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/07/2007 01:32:00 PM

That's what I like about blogs - you can find a pedant for every occasion.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/07/2007 01:37:00 PM

I wouldn't call having actual knowledge of biology and science as pedantry. It's something only anti-scientists would use as a slur to hide their ignorance.

Posted by Hans Versluys : 6/07/2007 02:40:00 PM

Uroskin: Dammit, you were supposed to follow with a pedantic response, not a semi-serious one.

If knowledgable people want to call it pedantry, I'm happy enough to follow their lead.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/07/2007 03:17:00 PM

Dear uroskin, I/S was making a semi-joke. See woppo began the comment saying "Potato _pedant_ time..."

Idiot was making the point that the net is big enough that there is always someone out there with that particular piece of knowledge needed to correct a mistake.

Posted by Muerk : 6/07/2007 03:29:00 PM

Muerk: the net is big enough that there is always someone out there with that particular piece of knowledge needed to correct a mistake.

Yup - and its one of the things I like. For a start, it makes knowledge far more accessible. Pre-internet, you had to go to experts; now, they will frequently come to you.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/07/2007 03:40:00 PM

Potato pedants dont tend to move around as much as regular pedants (don't quote me on that).

Posted by Anonymous : 6/07/2007 04:57:00 PM

and couch potato peasants move the least of all.
[shuffles of having ruined the thread with his attempt at humour]

Posted by Terence : 6/07/2007 06:05:00 PM

Lisa Matisoo-Smith is an excellent researcher, and an excellent lecturer, and a credit to the UofA. It's not the first time that she has appeared in the PNAS and it probably won't be the last time.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/07/2007 10:46:00 PM