10,000 years of bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria): archaeology of the first global crop

Author(s): Andrew Clarke

Year: 2016


The bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) has been cultivated for at least 10,000 years and was the only plant species cultivated in both the Old and New Worlds before Columbus; in this sense, it can be considered the world’s first global crop. Its durable fruit shells are used for containers, apparel and musical instruments throughout the tropics, subtropics and some temperate zones worldwide. Despite the importance of bottle gourd, its distribution across many cultures, and a long-standing interest from archaeologists, very little is known about its origins and dispersal. Based on a synthesis of the available archaeological and genetic evidence, a model of the evolutionary history of the bottle gourd is presented, with a focus on the origins, human selection and dispersal of this important crop. Particular attention is given to the bottle gourd in Africa – the putative homeland of the species, but the region about which least is known. Progress using ancient DNA (archaeogenetic) analysis for reconstructing the history of bottle gourd is also presented. Further understanding the history of bottle gourd will allow insights into the tempo and mode of human selection, the development and spread of agriculture, and biological exchange in the Anthropocene.

Cite this Record

10,000 years of bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria): archaeology of the first global crop. Andrew Clarke. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403223)