Study of the drift capacity of selected cultivated plants for the assessment of transatlantical contacts in the early years

Dominique Görlitz

The project team "Experimental Archaeology" has already occupied itself for over ten years with the research into pre-historical and early navigation in order to provide practical knowledge of the possible range of early migration at sea. Our research mainly uses methods of experimental archaeology, a sience with interdisziplinary orientation towards archaeology, rock-painting research, geography, biology, astronomy, physics and further natural sciences. For many years, scientists discussed the origin of cultivated plants from the Old World in pre-Columbian America. The essential point of these debattes has always been the question, whether these plants dirfted over the Atlantic Ocean by themselves or with the help of man and how they became introduced to the ancient American agriculture. The remains of seeds and fruits found in archaeological excavations represented solid genetic proof to this question. Should it be possible to prove the influence of man on the appearance of cultivated plants in pre-historical America, , this would produce important evidence for transatlantical contacts before Columbus. Due to the reed boat expedition ABORA 1999 we had the unique possibility to test the drift ability od seeds and fruits of selected cultivated plants under conditions of the high sea. In co-operation with the IPK Gatersleben, these plants were chosen, tested in the Mediterranean and then their germinating capacity was examined in the laboratory. Previous studies were only based on simulated experiments using sea-water. For the first time, the results of this survey provide facts for a lealistic review of the drifting ability of these cultivated plants. In our studies, the majority of samples were not able to germinate after being exposed to the water, therefore our results are contradictory to the current theories and cast heavy doubts on the independent drift. These conclusions are also supported by the generalization of the island-biogeography.