How Ancient Tooth Plaque Solved the Mystery of the Banana’s Trans-Pacific Journey

A TYPICAL DAY FOR MONICA Tromp might include scraping tartar off 3,000-year-old human incisors. “It’s basically like being a dental hygienist for the dead,” says Tromp, an Affiliated Researcher at New Zealand’s University of Otago, about her work studying ancient Pacific Islanders’ diets.

The hot, humid climate of places like Vanuatu, an archipelago 1,100 miles east of Australia, makes it notoriously difficult to find archaeological plant and animal remains. So for the past several years, Tromp has turned to an unlikely treasure trove of culinary data on early Pacific Islanders’ diets: the calcified plaque, called calculus or tartar, left on ancient human teeth. Now, in a new paper, Tromp and her fellow researchers have solved an agricultural mystery that has puzzled archaeologists: the migration of the banana.

Read more at Atlas Obscura. Featured image: Adli Wahid, The Market. 





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