Archaeology has often been a useful tool in
the investigation of crop origins. However, in the case of winged
bean, a crop of minor significance, there is no direct evidence
in the archaeological record. Of more interest, is the light
which archaeology has been able to shine on the origins of the
farming systems of which winged bean is a modern component.
In New Guinea, excavations in the Kuk swamp
at Mount Hagen have led to a claim for the field scale manipulation
of land and vegetation in the highlands, as early as 7000 BC.
According to the investigators' interpretations, 'garden features'
began to appear in the drained swamp around 4000 BC. By the
beginning of the common era, 2000 years ago, 'gardening systems'
of the type which could have supported root crops (such as modern
day taro ), left telltale impressions on the land surface
of the swamp that remain visible today. Unfortunately, archaeological
work has not yet uncovered any plant remains (including pollen)
that would confirm the presence of any domesticated crop (taro,
winged bean, or whatever) in these inferred ancient 'garden
systems'. Of course, this negative evidence is not surprising
given the scarcity of archaeological resources available for
the study of such questions.
Upland farming system in the
of New Guinea
showing taro in the foreground.
In the case of Southeast Asia, direct evidence
of domesticated plant remains is found in very early agricultural
sites. The current interpretation is that rice-based agriculture
reached mainland and island Southeast Asia around 4000 BC, at
least three millennia after it first arose in China.
Lowland rice, central
Upland rice, Mae Hong
Ban Chiang archeological site,
In summary, farming systems of which winged
bean is a modern day component, have been evolving over a long
time in Asia and Melanesia. However, whether winged bean, itself,
was an early part of this evolution, has not been revealed by