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The origin, evolution, and domestication of cotton remain somewhat of a mystery even to this day. The time when cotton fiber was first used by humans is not known. It is known, though, that civilizations on both sides of the world possessed cotton. The oldest archaeological record of cotton textiles, which dates back to about 3000 B.C., was found in excavations at Mohenjo-daro in the valley of the Indus River in West Pakistan. Peruvian archaeological excavations found cotton specimens that had been fabricated into textiles as far back as 2500 B.C. There are even reports of cotton fabrics found in prehistoric pueblo ruins in Arizona - in the New World, and in the Upper Nile, what is now Sudan country of Africa - in the Old World (Brown, 1958).
There are 43 species of cotton. These consist of both diploid (2n = 2x = 26 chromosomes) and tetraploid (2n = 4x = 52 chromosomes) types. The New World tetraploid species are allo-tretraploids, which means that their chromosomal makeup combines the genomes of two distinct diploid species (Munro, 1987). The two genomes were so sufficiently different that their chromosomes would not pair during meiosis, consequently, the initial hybrid was sterile. Therefore, natural doubling of each set of chromosomes had to occur for the natural hybrid to be fertile and produce offspring, this is an extremely rare event in nature.
Thirty-seven of the 43 species of Gossypium, are diploid and distributed predominately across the Old World: Africa, Asia Minor, Mexico, and Australia. The remaining six species of cotton are tetraploid and their origins are believed to be in the New World, specific countries being Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Hawaii, and the Galapagos Islands (Smith, 1995). There are many varieties of cotton grown in different countries. These differ in the attributes of their fiber, yield, ginning percentage, disease resistance and vegetative characters (Munro, 1987).
It is unknown exactly how cotton from the Old World traveled to the New World, but one theory suggests that from the origins in Africa and Asia Minor ancient trade routes existed along the east coast of Africa, to the western coast of India. Through ocean trade routes, even as escaped cargo, the fiber plant, it is reported, found its way to the New World (Smith, 1995).
Although the cotton industry is very successful today, and cotton is the most common textile fiber now in use, it was the last natural fiber to attain commercial importance. In the 5th century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus reported that among the valuable products in India was the "wild plant that bears fleece as its fruit." In the following century, cotton was introduced from India into Greece by Alexander the Great. Although the early Greeks and Romans used cotton for "awnings and sails," as well as for clothing, it was not adopted for widespread use in Europe until centuries later ("Cotton", Microsoft Encyclopedia).
In the New World the Mexicans used cotton for weaving in the pre-Columbian period, as stated earlier. It is known that the natives upon Columbus' arrival cultivated two types of cotton. Cotton could have been used as wadding, packing, or for dressing wounds. Smith states, "The use of cotton as a spinnable fiber probably occurred in societies that already spun flax or animal hair (Smith, 1995).
Cotton has been produced in the present-day continental United States each year since 1621. Because it was a very labor-intensive crop to harvest and prepare for spinning before Eli Whitney's cotton gin, the United States cotton production was very low, but since the introduction of the cotton gin the yield has increased greatly. Cotton is produced in 17 states across the southern United States with over a million bales produced in each of the "Cotton Boll" states. Texas is the leading producer of upland cotton, while Kansas produces the least (Smith, 1995). Today, cotton ranks just behind corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay among the leading cash crops of the United States agriculture and is among the nation's principal agricultural exports. The leading cotton producing states, also known as the Cotton-Belt, are Texas, California, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona. World production of cotton in the early 1990s stood at 18.9 million metric tons annually. In the 1930s, the United States produced more than half the world's cotton; by the early 1990s it was turning out about a sixth. The other leading producers included China, India, Pakistan, Brazil and Turkey ("Cotton", Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia).