Terry Ball and Dr. Terry Ball, Dean of Religious Education
The banana is an important crop in the South Pacific that provides not only food, but fiber and other products as well. Because it is a vegetatively propagated crop, it is only with the help of humanity that it has spread so far across that region. Understanding the domestication of the banana and its movement across the area would be important for archaeological research, but this has been difficult in the past due to the fact that bananas do not produce wood, seeds, or pollen. Bananas do, however, produce phytoliths; these microscopic silica cells could prove to be a means of tracking the banana and therefore the movement of peoples.
All species of banana appear to produce phytoliths that are similar in shape, which poses a problem for differentiating among them by traditional morphotypic means. Our research goal has been to determine a method of differentiating between banana phytoliths using morphometric analysis. We have begun to accomplish this by measuring large numbers of phytoliths from many of the different species of bananas and using statistics to determine if they can be distinguished from one another.
Much of the work done on this project since the receipt of funds from the ORCA grant has yet to be published and our research continues. Much remains to be done in this area, including analysis of even more of the different banana species, and extending into the related plantains. Still, our initial results are very promising, and do indeed indicate that there are distinct possibilities for using phytoliths for archaeological purposes. Our research is still far from completion, but this is mostly due to the large scope of the project.
Being involved in this research has been a very rewarding experience, and has provided many opportunities for personal and academic growth. It has provided me with experience that will help me in my future career and opportunities for having my work published.