Science 46(1182): 436-437 (Nov 2, 1917)

Trans-Pacific Agriculture

WHATEVER the merits of the particular case, the coincidence between the design called House of Tcuhu in Arizona and the Minoan Labyrinth in Crete, described in SCIENCE for June 29, page 677, is of interest as an illustration of a large class of facts in need of the more general scientific consideration that Professor Colton bespeaks. The statement, "There are three possible explanations of the coincidence," needs to be extended. American origin and prehistoric transportation to the old world is a fourth possibility as worthy of consideration as pre-Columbian transfer from the old world to America, introduction with the Spanish conquest, or independent origins in the two hemispheres.

Several cultivated plants of American origin appear to have been carried across the Pacific in prehistoric times, such as the coconut palm, the sweet potato, the bottle gourd, the yam bean, and the Upland species of cotton. The same name for sweet potato, cumara or kumara, is used by the Indians of the Urubamba valley of southern Peru and by the Polynesians, and other plant names are similar. Moreover, since the migrations of the prehistoric Polynesians extended across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, from Hawaii and Easter Island to New Zealand and Madagascar, it is not unreasonable to look for traces of communication with ancient America in the early civilizations of Asia, Africa or the Mediterannean region.

Agriculture is the primary, fundamental art of civilization, and the evidence of the cultivated plants is the most concrete of any that bears upon the question of prehistoric communication between the more civilized peoples of the two hemispheres. No such significance can be ascribed to the contacts or migrations of non-agricultural people across Bering Strait or the Aleutian Islands. For ethnologists, it may be easy to assume that agriculture had separate beginnings in the old world and the new, but botanists are unable to believe that the same genera and species of cultivated plants originated independently in the two hemispheres, or that they were carried across the Pacific without human assistance.

Peru undoubtedly was the chief center of domestication and distribution of cultivated plants in America, and in view of this must be considered also as a point of convergence in attempting to trace back to their origins other features of primitive civilization. The large number of domesticated plants and the high development of agriculture in Peru testify even more forcibly than the succession of different styles of Cyclopean architecture to the presence of large agricultural populations in the valleys of the eastern Andes through long periods of time. The ancient reclamation works of Peru challenge comparison with anything that was accomplished in Egypt or Assyria. How far the influence of the ancient Peruvian civilization may have extended in America or elsewhere is a question to which attention may well be given. Pressure of population is a compelling force in the domestication of plants and the development of intensive agriculture, as well as a cause of migration to unoccupied regions. The essential unity of physical types and of agricultural and other arts among the more advanced peoples of ancient America is to be taken into account, as well as the indicacations of early trans-Pacific communication of agricultural arts and cultivated plants.

It is important to consider all of the archeological and ethnological agreements or coincidences, since these may make it possible to determine the stage of development of civilization in which the prehistoric communication occurred. Whether any particular agreement of words, traditions, or "culture elements" is of real significance is not likely to be determined until such data are brought into relation with facts of other kinds. From the House of Tcuhu in Arizona to the Labyrinth of Minos in Crete, by the way of Peru and Polynesia, is a long journey, but it covers the most practicable routes for the gradual extension of primitive agricultural peoples. That the labyrinth design originated independently in the two hemispheres is as hard to believe as that different people should have identical thumb-prints. If post-Columbian transfer from the Mediterranean region can not be shown, the trans-Pacific route from America to the old world should be considered.