Gourd art by Robert Rivera, painting by Yellowman and more at the Torres Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
gourdsA gourd is a plant but it is not a fruit or a vegetable. With the exception of the bottle gourd, all gourds belong to the botanical family curcurbitaceae which contains 300 families. Except for four or five species grown forfood, all gourds are inedible.

Prehistoric man throughout the world, including prehistoric man in the Americas, has found the gourd extremely useful; however the gourd is not native to the New World. It came to America from Africa.

Cultivation of plants in America began around 6000 BC. It is thus assumed that the gourds found in and at all the archaeological sites of America were cultivated.

How the gourd arrived in America is an ongoing mystery. It did not come with the migration of man across the Bering Strait from Asia; that was too early. At one time the continents of South America and Africa were joined, but they split before gourd plants existed in America.

One theory is that gourds floated across the Atlantic Ocean to America from Africa. Gourds can float (they have been used as life preservers) up to 347 days and still have viable seeds. Assuming a gourd floated across the Atlantic Ocean, how did the seeds get out of the gourd to germinate? Under the right conditions, gourds will rot, thus releasing their seeds. Moisture will Crane firepot gourd by robert Riveraallow the decay of the hard shell of the gourd to give way, permitting the release of the seed. In dry weather, however, the gourd is very resistant to decay.

When completely dry, the shape and hard shell of the gourd enables man to use the dry hollowed-out gourds as vessels to store grains, as food containers, eating utensils, musical instruments (drums, rattles,etc.) andmasks in ceremonial dances. The rattle has been used for centuries, and is still used for dances, and is also widely employed as a source of magic in the hands of the Shaman.

The surface and shape of the gourd has been inviting to man since prehistoric times for artistic expression. The earliest record in the Americas of decorated gourds comes from coastal archaeological sites in Peru dating back to 2000 BC.

Today gourds are grown in many states of the U.S. for ornamental purposes only.
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