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Banana Baffles British Boffins

by Oliver Green

1999-06-30 05:56:03

A 500-year-old banana skin has been discovered in London, which predates the earliest recorded arrival of a banana in Britain by 150 years. Archaeologists are stunned by the rogue fruit, which has shattered the conventional wisdom of British banana eaters.

500-year-old BananaArchaeologists first thought the find was a practical joke perpetrated by devious anarchists who want to vilify Thomas Johnson, a 16th century herbalist who falsely claimed to have imported the first bananas into Britain. Johnson, obviously a self-aggrandising maniac, hung his hand in the window of his shop in Snow Hill where it became an object of curiosity in 1633. Whoever ate the banana whose skin was excavated last week from a stinky pit in the lower Thames must have been livid at upstart Johnson -- or dead and unable to raise a complaint.

The banana skin was rashly tossed into a fish-rearing tank near Southwark, on the south bank, after its contents were eaten sometime around the year 1500 in the Tudor period. Dave Saxby, chief archaeologist from the Museum of London, and the supervisor of the dig, lamented that the site is "a big smelly hole in the ground." The fish-rearing tanks were abandoned as the Thames became saturated with raw sewage, soil and rubbish. The skin, blackening but miraculously not decomposing, would have been protected by the detritus from the savage inferno of the 1666 Great Fire of London and the various calamities London has suffered since. The banana skin would have cowered under rotting sludge during Nazi bombing, and lain dormant while freakish Spaniards led an invasion fleet upriver.

Whoever ate the yellow fruit would have been a brave soul: in Tudor England, fresh fruit was thought to cause ghastly and agonizing diseases, and was therefore treated with great wariness and suspicion. Pickled, cooked, and dried fruits were acceptable, and archaeologists are looking into whether the earliest banana in Britain was perhaps pickled. The banana's ancestry is unknown, but it dates from when Spain and Portugal were chummy with Britain and probably comes from one of their West African colonies. Today the banana skin is black, shriveled, and bears very little resemblance to any contemporary bananas.

May the revised history of Britain's banana imports benefit mankind and advance civilization.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

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