Investigation about long distance drifts of domesticated plants - Drift- and germination experiments deliver new knowledge about the transoceanic spread of crop plants

Dominique Görlitz

When the first Europeans came to America they observed that the indigenous people already cultivated many crop plants. Instead of their first suspicion they rapidly learnt to use all these American agriculture products for their own nourishment. The European invaders exported the new plants into their homelands where these species were added to the existing crop plants very successfully. Today, more than 60% of all these plants originally came from the New World, e.g. maize, potato,maniok,vanilla, cacao, tomatoes, chili, pineapple, avocado, sun floiwer etc. The American (tetraploid) cotton replaced the original (diploid) cotton and opened the way free for its world wide economical use.

Finally, the American natives were also responsible for the domestication of the much desired stimulantia, like tobacco and coca. Before the spectacular discoveries of traces from nicotine and cocaine in Egyptian mummies by SVETLANA BALABANOVA, everybody believed that these stimulantia appeared in the Old World only after the discovery of the New World by COLUMBUS. These suggestions were supported by the mainstream opinion that prehistoric navigation was not able to realize a back and fourth voyage and to connect the Mediterranean world with the lands beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. But now, after the ABORA II Expedition, indications have become stronger that an advanced navigation has existed long before the antique civilizations. The team around the two biologists Mrs. CORNELIA LORENZ and Mr. DOMINIQUE GÖRLITZ made entirely new drifting experiments with cultivated plants. This study was supported and carried out in cooperation with the renowned Institute for Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research Gatersleben (IPK Gatersleben) under assistance by Dr. ANDREAS BÖRNER - reponsible for the maintenance of the gene bank collection in Getersleben.

Seeds and fruits od six species were selected to investigate their salt-water resistance and ability for long distance drifts. Two test examples were towed 1165 nautical miles through the Eastern Mediterranean Sea behind ABORA II. An other fraction of the same species was kept in the seed store in the IPK Gatersleben. After the voyage the test seeds (plants) were cultivated in the IPK Gaterleben to investigate their germination rate. These data support the hypothesis that the transatlantic exchange of seeds and cultivated plants by oceanic drifting is very unlikely, due to their botanical properties. The introduction of severaol cultivated species into the American agriculture must then have been the result of transoceanic voyages by prehistoric cultures across the Atlantic as well as the Pacific Ocean. This article discusses this important question, based on completely new experiences in the field of experimental research and plant genetics.