This book chronicles the earliest histories of familiar tropical Asian crops in the ancient Middle East and the Mediterranean, from rice and cotton to citruses and cucumbers. Drawing on archaeological materials and textual sources in over seven ancient languages, The Tropical Turn unravels the breathtaking anthropogenic peregrinations of these familiar crops from their homelands in tropical and subtropical Asia to the Middle East and the Mediterranean, showing the significant impact South Asia had on the ecologies, dietary habits, and cultural identities of peoples across the ancient world. In the process, Sureshkumar Muthukumaran offers a fresh narrative history of human connectivity across Afro-Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the late centuries BCE.
List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
1. The Historical Context
2. Wool from Trees: Cotton
3. The Golden Grain: Asiatic Rice
4. Persian "Apples": Citruses
5. Familiar but Foreign: Eastern Cucurbits
6. The Egyptian Bean: The Sacred Lotus
7. A Forgotten Tuber: Taro
8. Timber for God and King: Sissoo
9. How to Turn Tropical
Sureshkumar Muthukumaran is a historian of the ancient world. He is a Lecturer in History at the National University of Singapore and has previously taught at University College London and Yale-NUS College.
"Having grappled with a complex, sometimes contradictory, and often obscure corpus of data spanning multiple fields of scholarship, Sureshkumar Muthukumaran offers the most comprehensive and up-to-date summary of the dispersal of ancient crops across South Asia and the eastern Mediterranean."
– Robert N. Spengler III, author of Fruit from the Sands: The Silk Road Origins of the Foods We Eat
"Accessible, rigorous, and interdisciplinary, Muthukumaran's Tropical Turn offers an absorbing plant-based historical journey from tropical Asia to the Middle East and the Mediterranean. This lucid, thought-provoking account of agricultural plant migrations – which variously affected labor regimes, landscapes, and cultural traditions – demonstrates how fascinating and relevant to understanding our globalized world crop histories can be."
– Daniel Fuks, Research Associate, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge