Lands of Red and Gold

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Jared, Dec 16, 2008.

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  1. Jared Voldemort Jnr

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    Gracias.

    Not really. It's based on plants which grow in the Murray Valley. This is an area of the world which is around 35 degrees of latitude (south), and which is semi-arid along most of its length. It's far enough south that plants will have difficulty adapting to tropical growing seasons, but it's also in the sort of area where the winters are too dry to count as a Mediterranean climate.

    Most of the crops which are grown along the Murray Valley in OTL are Eurasian crops (wheat, various fruits) and require irrigation. This also leads to a lot of soil erosion and soil salinization, and a wide variety of environmental problems. Native plants growing in this area (some of which are domesticable) don't have those same problems, although there's still likely to be long-term deforestation issues associated with agriculture.

    I think the red areas there may actually be those below 250 millimetres; you've got most of the Australian outback there in red, and that's definitely less than 250mm of rainfall. 250mm (well, 10 inches, actually, closer to 260mm) is pretty much the definition of what counts as outback.

    A lot of South Africa could probably benefit. So could anywhere with a Mediterranean climate, to be honest, providing that it isn't too close to the tropics. North Africa looks ideal, actually, provided that there's some rainfall.

    A lot of those areas would probably benefit, although note that highland areas may not be so suitable. Probably they'd get too cold in the winter, not to mention thinner air in general. Not much grows on the Tibetan plateau.

    Offhand, I'd say that a lot of the semi-arid areas of North Africa and South Africa would both benefit immensely, the Argentine pampas not much less so, and so would a lot of the American Southwest, such as Arizona. Although the summers in Arizona may be too hot; they get even hotter than most of the Australian outback. California probably would do quite well, too. So would a lot of Persia, although there's complications with the highland areas, depending on the amount of snow and the time of year.

    Overall, though, there could be some increased agricultural production over a lot of areas. Nothing which matches the potato - I think that's the highest producer of calories per acre of any food crop - but enough to cause some interesting population boosts.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2008
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  2. BillFish Member

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    This is very interesting. I look forward to more. Was one of your POD's the devlopment of Copper/Bronze by aboriginal peoples? (I had thought that they only had stone until arrival of europeans?). I base this on that the shield and speartips looked like? (I could be wrong).

    Different crop types and better domestical animal choices will definate help (I have read Mr. Diamond's boot too and I am also a Bioligist).

    Keep up the good work
     
  3. mrmandias Regent

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    And the people said, Amen.
     
  4. mrmandias Regent

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    One question I have about this timeline and its kind of a delicate one:

    The question is by no means settled, but there is some evidence that different ethnic groups have different mean IQs as part of their genetic package. Australian Aborigines look to be among the lowest. If so, I would have to think that would have its effects on any Australasian civilization, especially after contact.

    How are you going to handle that? Are you simply going to reject the hypothesis that the human cerebral package has distinct variations among genotyps? Are you going to posit that the agricultural POD has occurred long enough ago that its had effects on Aboriginal evolution (pretty probably, IMHO)? Or are you going to be agnostic, since the outcome is the same either way?
     
  5. Darkest Banned

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    That is a delicate question. I'm of the persuasion that this hypothesis is false... but politics and ideology might be coloring my opinion. I would definitely encourage agnosticism on that point.

    Eh, the map might be wrong. I shouldn't have left my atlas back in the dorm room for the holidays.

    Indeed. That should be very interesting. This POD doesn't just mean an alternate story of *Australia but potentially the entirety of history by affecting some region of all continents except for Antarctica. With most of these regions in places we would call the Third World today in OTL, it could definitely shake up the demographic-economic geopolitical game. Good luck!
     
  6. Jared Voldemort Jnr

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    The POD is that Australia has a new plant (a species of yam) which is more easily domesticable than OTL Australian species. The plant, called the red yam (Dioscorea chelidonius), is good enough for domestication on its own, in a way which OTL Australian yams were not (although some other Australian yam species are domesticable, just not enough to become staple crops). This allows the development of semi-sedentary communities over a substantial area, lets the people understand the notion of farming, and then begin to explore some other Australian plants. The changes spread from there. Bronze working (those speartips and shields are bronze) is an effect of the POD, but not the main change in itself.

    For a bit more information about the PoD, by the way, this timeline was discussed in a preview thread here.

    There's certainly a few different crop types available. These are real plants, on most of which a lot of work has been done on domestication recently, and they show some potential to be used in the real world for human consumption. (Although the most useful Australian crops turn out to be more tropical-zone crops, mostly because those are best grown in tropical Africa).

    As for Diamond, his thesis was correct at the broadest level: a greater variety of domesticable crops and animals makes for quicker development of agricultural civilization. But he was wrong on so many of the details that it's hard to know where to start. Not just about Australia not having domesticable crops; I can list at least eight species of Australian plants apart from macadamias which are unequivocally domesticable, and plenty more which look like they are domesticable, once a bit of work has been put into it. He greatly underestimates the effects of selective breeding on producing domesticable crops.

    Diamond's notion of the geographical axis of Eurasia (east-west) being better suited to the spread of crops than that of the Americas or Africa (north-south) turns out to be over-stated at best, and more likely complete rubbish. The diffusion of crops is related to broader technological capacity. When Eurasia was in the Neolithic, all of those founder crops which Diamond mentions spread slowly even when moving east-west; maize's diffusion north-south was just as quick as crops had spread east-west during Neolithic times in Eurasia. And when the Spanish arrived to spread American crops by water, those crops were instantly grown within most of the Americas without needing time to adapt to different growing seasons or anything like that.

    Erm, thanks, I think...

    This area happens to be related to the field I work in professionally, and while I don't want to get into all the details of that, the short version is that this hypothesis looks to be a load of codswallop. The hypothesis was advanced by Herrnstein and Murray in "The Bell Curve" has holes big enough to drive a fleet of interstellar battlecruisers through. In essence, they've attributed too much importance to supposed group genetic differences in IQ when there are known social and environmental factors which account for it, and those differences in IQ can shift within a couple of generations, which is far too quick to be the result of genetic changes.

    Take, for example, the shift in IQ scores from early Jewish immigrants to the United States, which in a few generations went from below average to above average. Or to give another example, the children of American GIs to German women after WW2, and who grew up in Germany. There were a lot of these children, and a study was done comparing the IQs of the children of white fathers and black fathers. The difference in IQ vanished in a single generation, which is rather hard to explain if half the genetic contribution came from supposedly less intelligent black fathers...

    I don't need to be agnostic, as per above, since the evidence does not support this hypothesis in the first place. If there are group genetic differences in general intelligence amongst humans, they're slight enough that they're not worth worrying about.

    I've browsed a few online global rainfall maps, and it looks like the broad patten you described for areas still fits, although most of Persia may be too arid.

    And here I was thinking that I'd just be focusing on Australia and New Zealand. Well, I still will be, actually; I'm not going to let this project sprawl as much as DoD. But I'll work something out for the other continents.
     
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  7. Darkest Banned

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    I definitely encourage you keep to your original goal and focus most of your attention on Australasia (which reminds me, have you made any statements concerning New Guinea/Polynesia?) but the butterfly net cannot hold forever. Not that you need to do a lot of work on these other regions, but I'd definitely like to see some divergences in history because of these new crops. I would think the diffusion of *Australian crops would be slower than the potato because of distance and the later date of discovery, which means I don't think you'll have to worry about it until probably the 19th century, but you know more about me on that subject.
     
  8. Jomazi Banned

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    Well, as an agnostic in regards to those theories, two reasons makes it quite difficult to ascertain that observed differences in IQ between racial groups is due to genetics.

    1. Culture strongly affects intelligence.
    A society tend to produce more of what it endorses. A bad psychosocial environment in families is a known factor in producing low IQ:s, as is being a member of a low-status socioeconomic group, such as the Burakumin in Japan.

    2. ... Then again, less capable groups would be more likely to end up low-status, and a bad psychosocial environment or violent culture could simply be the result of genes promoting such behavior.

    Now, one can be a typical leftist and claim 2 "can't possibly be right" or a typical racist and claim the same thing about the first alternative, or one can be a scientist and say "more data is required".

    A similar set of arguments-counterarguments rise on the fact that group intelligence of different peoples strongly correlates to the technological level of that people in pre-modern time.

    Did the San-People not develop agriculture and/or metalworking due to lower intelligence, or did they not evolve to further sophistication due to lack of a more sedentary lifestyle? And how does environmental factors such as climate, accessibility, disease and so on play in?

    Let's call these later arguments A and B. Together with 1 and 2 from above, four combination's are possible, and only one of them would mess things up for the native Australians ITTL.

    And, since they already have agriculture and metalworking, pick one of the others.
     
  9. Jared Voldemort Jnr

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    I'm planning on remaining focused on Australia/NZ for my own writings. I haven't made any statements regarding New Guinea and Polynesia because they aren't really affected by the PoD in any meaningful way. There may be some very minor trade of metal tools and jewellery into New Guinea via the Torres Strait Islands, but not very much. Polynesia isn't really affected; because of the Maori, they've heard some general stories about the "big land" west of New Zealand, but not much more. Australian crops don't really grow in most of Polynesia, so the changes aren't significant.

    I certainly don't expect the butterfly net to hold forever; butterflies are going to spread to the Netherlands soon after 1619, and then further. I just don't plan on exploring too many of the details of those butterflies, except at a distance.

    The diffusion of New World crops is probably the best example we have. The potato was introduced to Europe by 1536 (according to the ever-infallible Polonopedia), and it took about two centuries to become widespread. It is still diffusing as a crop today; one of the biggest changes in recent years has been the spread of the potato as a crop in China and some other parts of Asia.

    Australian crops will probably take longer to penetrate into Europe, not least because they won't grow in some portions of it. But they may reach some areas earlier. I'm thinking of South Africa here, which as a Dutch port will be in close contact with Australia since immediately after contact, and where people won't have the same attachment to traditional farm crops and methods which slowed the adoption of the potato and maize in Europe. After spreading to South Africa, it will probably diffuse elsewhere, too.

    There's an extensive scientific literature on the effects of environment and genetics on IQ. The short summary of the results in that literature is that according to the available evidence, if there are group differences in general intelligence, then they are very small, and probably not present at all. Environmental factors play a much bigger role in the differences between groups, since in situations where the environments are equal (e.g. children of American GIs growing up in post-war Germany), the group differences in IQ disappear.

    More data is always useful, but the data which is available indicates that environmental factors account for the vast majority of between-group differences in IQ. (Although genetics does play a much larger part in accounting for differences in IQ within people of the same ethnic/racial group.

    Well, not really. People of East Asian origin score as high or higher than whites on measures of IQ (higher on verbal intelligence, slightly lower on nonverbal intelligence, to be precise), and yet technologically China was ahead for a while, then Europe overtook them. If there were group genetic differences in intelligence as the main drivers of technological change, then China should have stayed ahead of Europe. Also, peoples in Africa had ironworking and various other things which weren't available in the Americas, but Amerindian peoples score higher on IQ tests than people of African descent.

    Anyway, based on my knowledge of the literature, there's nothing to suggest that there are meaningful group genetic differences in intelligence, and so that's the position which will be taken for Lands of Red and Gold.
     
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  10. mrmandias Regent

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    <i> People of East Asian origin score as high or higher than whites on measures of IQ (higher on verbal intelligence, slightly lower on nonverbal intelligence, to be precise), </i>

    Its the other way around. Its Ashkenazi that tend to score higher on verbal intelligence than the general Northern European population while scoring at about the average on non-verbal intelligence.
     
  11. Atom Future Human

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    This is really cool! i can't wait to see what you have planned for Australia and New Zeeland. How far has agriculture spread in Australia? To Perth? Or is it only in the southeast?

    Are you still map-making adverse?
     
  12. Jared Voldemort Jnr

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    Whoops, you're right. My bad. I always tend to remember those the wrong way around for some reason.

    Well, the prologue does show people farming (yam and wealth-trees) along the Swan River, so yes, agriculture spreads to Perth. :) More broadly, agriculture starts along the Murray and spreads throughout south-eastern Australia, to south-western Australia, and later to New Zealand. I'm still not sure when it will reach Tasmania, but it will reach there at some point before European contact.

    Yes. It's a skill I've never been able to master. I'll have to work something out for this timeline, although it won't matter for the first couple of posts.
     
  13. Roberto FREE SUSAN O.

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    Hey Jared, if you want, I could supply maps for you.
     
  14. Analytical Engine Monarchist Collectivist Federalist

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    Praise St. Roberto of Mapsylvania! :cool::cool::cool::cool:
     
  15. Roberto FREE SUSAN O.

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    And here I was expecting you to have a scathing reply about how Jared was yours. (In the mapmaking-for business, at least). :D

    And by that I mean, praise yourself buddy, you've done a pretty nifty job with the maps for DoD. :cool:
     
  16. Analytical Engine Monarchist Collectivist Federalist

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    Hell no...

    Highlander does the continental maps... ;)

    Thankee. :)
     
  17. Julius Vogel So

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    I wonder how much potential there is for diffusion/regular long term contact between OTL Australia and NZ given the actual distances between the two without quite advanced shipping technology.

    On one hand there is nearly 2000km of open sea with very few islands inbetween (Norfolk?) and who knows about how the currents work (I am no sailor).

    On the other hand the Polynesian/Micronesian/Melanesians managed to make some incredibly long distance Pacific migrations to get to NZ amongst others. I don't recall much about these migrations so I can't be sure that the same techniques would have supported a trans Tasman relationship. I don't recall ever seeing any mention of proved pre European contact.
     
  18. Jared Voldemort Jnr

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    Hey, if you're volunteering, I'm happy with that.

    Potential for diffusion, quite a lot. Potential for regular long-term contact, not so much, although maybe if there's trading potential. (Bronze, for example).

    The distance between Australia and New Zealand is less than the distance between New Zealand and Tahiti, the most likely source of the Polynesian migrations to New Zealand. There are closer islands to NZ than Tahiti, so it's possible that the Maori come to NZ from closer islands (Fiji, for instance), but as I understand it the Maori language is closer to Tahitian.

    In terms of islands along the way, Polynesians did settle Norfolk Island, although the colony eventually failed. I don't know all the details of the currents between Australia and NZ, but there is a handy one which would make it easy to come back to NZ from Australia - it runs from off the NSW coast to along the east coast of the North Island.

    The distance, in and of itself, won't be a barrier. The Polynesians crossed larger distances, and they could learn how to work the currents. They already understood the techniques of stellar navigation well enough to find their way once they'd discovered that Australia was there. (Essentially, they could follow a line of latitude by using the stars.)

    There's no record of proved pre-European contact between Australia and New Zealand. But then, what records would we be likely to have? Nothing, really. Neither society was literate, and while long-term contact would have been preserved in oral history, brief contact is unlikely to happen.

    I've based the ATL Maori contact with Australia on what happened historically between Polynesia and South America. The distance between South America and the nearest inhabited Polynesian island (over 3000km) is much larger than the distance between Australia and New Zealand, but there was contact between Polynesia and South America. The Polynesians got the sweet potato from South America, and it looks like they gave chickens to the Andean peoples - there are chicken bones radiocarbon dated to before European contact with South America, although there's been some dispute over that point. But the Polynesians didn't try to settle South America; by the looks of it, they only tried to settle uninhabited lands.

    What I think is quite possible is that the early Polynesian settlers in New Zealand found Australia, but they had no interest in settling there, since it was already inhabited. The only likely evidence to have been left behind would have been if the kiore (Polynesian rat) had made it to Australia, but it doesn't look like that species can compete that well with established rat species, and in any case the kiore didn't make it to South America even though there was contact between there and Polynesia.

    In ATL Australia, well, the contact is going to run rather differently...
     
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  19. Threadmarks: Lands of Red and Gold #1: Old Land, New Times

    Jared Voldemort Jnr

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    Lands of Red and Gold #1: Old Land, New Times

    Consider, for a moment, the land which in certain times and certain places has been called Australia; smallest, driest, flattest and harshest of the globe’s inhabited continents. Geologically, this is an old land, whose few once-high mountains have been eroded to mere stumps of their former selves. Long ages of weathering have worn down the mountains and borne away most of the soils into the sea. Lying mostly in the desert belts, this is a continent where the sun burns brightly and life-giving rains seldom come.

    Life here would seem to be among the harshest on earth. Save for a few of the northern extremities, where monsoons bring seasonal abundance, this is a land where water is scarce. Even in those regions which are not desert, the rainfall is erratic. Some times will see year after year of punishing drought, other times will see the rain fall so quickly that floods wash away ever more of what remains of the thin soils. Every summer, the scorching heat brings the season of bushfires which sweep across vast areas of the continent, consuming everything in their path.

    Yet despite the rigours and trials of this harshest of continents, it has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years. Aboriginal peoples have made it their home for millennia, adapting their lifestyles to suit the land, while also changing the land to suit their lifestyles. They have not developed farming in a way which would be recognised in most of the world, but they have mastered the use of fire. They have long burned the bush regularly in patterns which fit their needs, creating open woodlands and grasslands to feed the kangaroos which are their prime game animal. The patterns of fire changed the nature of Australia’s flora, burning out some plants and encouraging others. The towering, fire-loving gum trees will become the most well-known of these plants, but there are many others. Regular burning encourages the growth of plants which store nutrients below the ground in the form of tubers, bulbs or tuberous roots, since these let the plants quickly regrow into land which has been fertilised by wood ash and cleared of competition. Aboriginal peoples love these plants, since their underground stores are tasty, easily harvested, and a reliable source of food over most of the year.

    For despite living in such a rigorous land, Aboriginal peoples have acquired the knowledge they need to survive here, and survive easily. Fire-created grasslands and woodland allow them to hunt for an abundance of kangaroo. If the hunt fails, one person can spend three or four hours digging for tubers and find enough food to feed a family for a whole day.

    Yet for all their extensive knowledge of the plants of this land, the Aboriginal peoples have not developed a full farming society. They manage the land in a manner which sustains their lifestyle, but they have not domesticated any of the native plants. Writers have deemed that the indigenous Australian flora did not include plants with the necessary range of qualities to develop a native system of full agriculture.

    Yet this need not always be so.

    Consider the Murray River. Fed by rainwater and snowmelt in the highest reaches of Australia’s remaining mountains, this river flows for 2500 kilometres until it empties into a complex system of lakes, sand dunes, saltwater lagoons and sand bars called the Murray Mouth. The Murray and its tributaries drain a seventh of Australia’s land surface, making it by far the largest river system on this harsh continent. Most of the basin is flat and not far above sea level, with the rivers that flow through them flowing slowly for most times of the year, except when rising in one of the irregular floods. After extended droughts, the Murray has been known to dry up completely.

    Yet by Australian standards, this is a well-watered land, the heartland of a region which is the breadbasket of modern Australia. It held the same fertility since long before white men first visited this land where water means life. The early white explorers who ventured along the Murray wrote of seeing acre after acre of wild yam-fields encouraged by Aboriginal peoples who burnt the land to suit these plants. These peoples harvested the yam tubers for food, often leaving part of the tubers in the earth so that the plants would regrow and there would be more food next time. In places, the earth was so full of holes from their digging that explorers found it too dangerous to take horses across.

    Imagine now, for a moment, what could be if history were to be turned back and allowed to move in a new direction. Look far enough back into the long-vanished past, and you might see a new plant arise along the Mighty Murray. A new breed of yam, a plant much like its historical forebears, but whose qualities have altered in a few ways. The most obvious change is that the white-yellow flesh of these yams has changed to red. Their tubers grow slightly larger than their forebears, and the plants are quicker-growing, with larger leaves. In time, this new breed of yam spreads throughout much of the Murray Valley, displacing the other kinds of yams which grow in this region [1].

    This change happens long before the ancestors of the Aboriginal peoples arrive on Australia’s shores. The newcomers reach this land at some time at least forty thousand years ago, when the sea levels are lower, and make landfall on a place which has now been concealed beneath the waves. From here, they quickly spread out across the continent, in time reaching the Murray Valley where the red yams grow. They quickly discover the value of the red yam, and it becomes one of the common plants they gather.

    The time when the ancestors of the Aboriginal peoples arrive in Australia is a time of glaciers, lower sea levels and climatic instability. Like humans across the rest of the world, Aboriginal peoples will maintain a hunter-gatherer lifestyle until the glaciers start to melt, sea levels begin to rise, and the climate enters a period of relative stability known as the Holocene.

    In this new era, people around the world who are gathering wild plants create changes to many of them, in processes which will end in domesticated plants and independent origins of agriculture. First among these will be in the lands which will later be called the Fertile Crescent, where an abundance of founder crops such as emmer and einkorn wheat, barley, peas, chickpeas, lentils, bitter vetch and flax means a very early development of agriculture. Peoples in other parts of the world will develop agriculture independently, with the speed of their development related to how easily domesticable their founder crops are. In China, in the New Guinea highlands, in Africa, the Andes, Mesoamerica and along the Mississippi, agriculture will develop independently. In other regions, agriculture will spread from its first point of origin, until agricultural societies are spread around most of the globe [2].

    Along the Murray, Aboriginal peoples make increasing use of the red yam. Its large, nutritious tubers are a valuable component of their diet. They harvest the yam tubers each year, and leave parts of the tubers in the ground to ensure that there is more food for next year’s harvest. Slowly, they take control of its breeding, until with the passing of generations they develop forms of the red yam which are spread exclusively by human activity. They have created Australia’s first domesticated crop.

    * * *

    [1] Introducing the red yam (Dioscorea chelidonius), a new crop for a new time. Like most yams, this is a vine with a large, starchy, tuberous root. The vine itself is a perennial plant, with well-established roots. The above-ground portions of the plant often die back in winter, with regrowth in spring or after bushfires. Like many related Dioscorea species, the red yam is domesticable. Like a much smaller number of yam species (such as white and yellow yams from Africa), the red yam is also suitable as a founder crop, i.e. a plant which can be independently domesticated even in a region which has no pre-existing agriculture. Founder crops are much rarer than domesticable crops; OTL Australia has plenty of the latter but none of the former. Indigenous agriculture can’t get started without founder crops, no matter how many other domesticable plants may happen to be in a region.

    For those who care, the particular mutation which has happened in red yams is polyploidy. This is a kind of mutation where the entire genome of an organism is duplicated. It is generally associated with lusher and more vigorous growth, particularly in domesticated (or domesticable) plants; many of the domesticated forms of wheat and bananas are polyploid, for example. Polyploidy happens reasonably often, and it can create a new species in one generation, since a polyploid plant is not fertile with its parent plants or old species, but is fertile with other polyploid mutants from the former species. There have been several documented instances of polyploid species arising in different regions and being fertile with the new polyploid plants from different regions, but not with their own parents.

    Polyploidy is more likely to create new species in plants which can self-pollinate (like wheat) than in plants which have separate male and female plants (such as most yams), but it can still create new species if a male and female plant both turn polyploid in the same area, and if one fertilises the other. The specific point of departure for Lands of Red and Gold is thus that two yams have turned polypoid near each other, fertilise each other, and create a new species. Polyploid plants also often have other evolutionary advantages, since they have multiple copies of the same genes, which can evolve in different directions. This will lead to a greater range of traits within red yams, when the time comes for them to be domesticated.

    [2] While the point of departure for this timeline is far back in the past, Lands of Red and Gold also features an innovative “butterfly trap.” This trap catches butterflies within Australia and doesn’t let them escape the continent until there is contact with the outside world. So the cultures of Australia are considerably changed from OTL long before there is contact with the rest of the world, or even before domestication of D. chelidonius. This is inevitable with the effects of a different plant species bouncing around the continent during the tens of millennia of human settlement of Australia. So the Aboriginal peoples will have slightly different languages, slightly different belief systems, and so on. But changes won’t be spread outside Australia until there is contact between peoples from the various continents.

    * * *

    Thoughts?
     
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  20. Hendryk Banned

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    As a layman in matters of biology and botanics, I find the POD quite plausible and very original. I also have no particular problem with the "butterfly net", though one could split hairs and argue that the different human activity in Australia would cause alterations in the weather patterns that would at some point make an impact in another part of the world. But as far as I'm concerned that's neither here nor there, and it's certainly more fun to keep the rest of the world identical to OTL until actual contact between European explorers and this *aboriginal civilization.
     
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