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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.

New Guinea.

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.

Baliem slopes

Upland farming system in the Baliem valley
of New Guinea showing taro in the foreground.

Southeast Asia

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 Burma,
Upland rice, Mae Hong Son,
Northern Thailand
Lowland rice
Upland rice

Ban Chiang archeological site,
Northeast Thailand
Ban Chiang dig

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 archaeology.

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