Dr. Tim Denham: Santa Barbara Symposium on Human Origins II

BOAS Network presents: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Symposium on Human Origins II. Friday September 12, 2014. Afternoon Session with Dr. Tim Denham, Australian National University.

Dr. Tim Denham is a particular expert on the highlands of Papua New Guinea, one of the “cradles of farming, where some of the world’s staple food plants were first domesticated.” He led a team whose research revealed that this area was one of a handful in the world where the “agricultural revolution” took place. From his website: “From a ‘Neolithic backwater,’ New Guinea has turned into one of the few pristine centers of early plant domestication. There is increasing evidence that the two of the world’s most valuable crops, sugar cane and banana, originated there.” Denham’s research reveals that people living at the Kuk site in the Wahgi Valley in the Papua New Guinea highlands were practicing agriculture by at least 7,000 years ago – about the same time as indigenous people in the Middle East were cultivating what and Central Americans were farming corn. The Kuk site is hugely significant because until the 1930s, Europeans had not penetrated into the New Guinea highlands, thinking that because it was such a hostile environment there were no people. In the 1970s, Jack Olson went in to the “Kuk Swamp” site, a former tea plantation, excavated, and found ancient systems of agricultural cultivation. Denham pursued this research – and found he was looking at one of the major centers of agricultural innovation, as important as the Ancient Near East, the Americas and Africa. Denham’s work gives us very interesting insights into the interaction of humans with their environment over long periods of time. His far found research projects include an examination of the lack of genetic diversity in commercial banana crops, which could possibly result in..extinction of the bananas we slice into our breakfast.