Team discovers new origins for farmed rice

Team discovers new origins for farmed rice
Professor Gary Crawford

Chew on this: rice farming is a far older practice than we knew. In fact, the oldest evidence of domesticated rice has just been found in China, and it's about 9,000 years old.

The discovery, made by a team of archaeologists that includes University of Toronto Mississauga professor Gary Crawford, sheds new light on the origins of rice domestication and on the history of human agricultural practices.

"Today, rice is one of most important grains in the world's economy, yet at one time, it was a wild did people bring rice into their world? This gives us another clue about how humans became farmers," says Crawford, an anthropological archaeologist who studies the relationships between people and plants in prehistory.

Working with three researchers from the Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Zhejiang Province, China, Crawford found the ancient domesticated rice fragments in a probable ditch in the lower Yangtze valley. They observed that about 30 per cent of the rice plant material - primarily bases, husks and leaf epidermis - were not wild, but showed signs of being purposely cultivated to produce rice plants that were durable and suitable for human consumption. Crawford says this finding indicates that the domestication of rice has been going on for much longer than originally thought. The rice plant remains also had characteristics of japonica rice, the short grain rice used in sushi that today is cultivated in Japan and Korea. Crawford says this finding clarifies the lineage of this specific rice crop, and confirms for the first time that it grew in this region of China.

Crawford and his colleagues spent about three years exploring the five-hectare archaeological dig site, called Huxi, which is situated in a flat basin about 100 metres above sea level. Their investigations were supported by other U of T Mississauga participants - anthropology professor David Smith and graduate students Danial Kwan and Nattha Cheunwattana. They worked primarily in early spring, fall and winter in order to avoid the late-spring wet season and excruciatingly hot summer months. Digging 1.5 metres below the ground, the team also unearthed artifacts such as sophisticated pottery and stone tools, as well as animal bones, charcoal and other plant seeds.

This study builds on Crawford's previous research into early agriculture in China, in which he has examined the ancient settlements, tools, and plant and animal management efforts that occurred in different regions of the country. He is interested in better understanding the forces that compelled our human ancestors to transition from hunters and gatherers to farmers.

"The question I ultimately want to answer is, what pushed them to move wholeheartedly into the farming regime? Why did they reduce their emphasis on hunting and expand into crop production?" Crawford says. "People did what they needed to do to make their lives more manageable and sustainable, and the unintended consequence was farming. With this discovery, we're seeing the first stages of that shift."

Funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Crawford's study is published today in Scientific Reports, an online open-access journal from the publishers of Nature.

Explore further

The origin and spread of 'Emperor's rice'

More information: Yunfei Zheng et al. Rice Domestication Revealed by Reduced Shattering of Archaeological rice from the Lower Yangtze valley, Scientific Reports (2016). DOI: 10.1038/srep28136
Journal information: Scientific Reports , Nature

Citation: Team discovers new origins for farmed rice (2016, June 22) retrieved 21 August 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jun 23, 2016
I believe, as an educated guess, that many semi-advanced cultures existed in the pre-history before the invention of writing. Another possibility is that writing was in fact invented many times and often this advance lost by invasion, pestilence, famine, wars and other disorders. We have today many quite dissimilar writing systems. Just look at Armenian and the old Irish Oggam and the Sanskrit of the Vedas; and then look at ancient Thai, Asiatic pictograms, Egyptian evolution of pictograms such as Linear A. None of these look alike. There are 13000 year old temples off the coast of India under 300 feet of water...have not been dry in 10,000 years. An archaeologist in Turkmenistan is working on ruins of modern looking cities complete with underground gravity sewers and metal water plumbing in brick and mortar houses and paved streets in lots and blocks....over 8000 years old! A LOT that we do not know.

Jun 23, 2016
Absolutely true. The above references early pictogram from Armenian caves.
Or an even wilder theory is that humans had the ability to communicate non verbally and lost this in the resonance change during the flood/axial tilt of the perhaps not so distant past.
Science now knows that the Mid Atlantic Ridge was ABOVE WATER 12,000 y ago.
If we consider myths, Lemuria/Mu was in the Pacific and let's conjecture a magnetic pull drug the island south and left it submerged and we have Zelandia identified by scientists. Atlantis later was drug north and is part of Greenland. We can make these suppositions because we can see India that was not sunken after its travel north to impact Asia.
What caused these magnetic forces? Perhaps an outside our system visitor like Proxima Centauri part of the 3 star system OR that in our revolutions thru the galaxy we orbit into a 3 star system like Sirius. Like Algol.

Jun 23, 2016
Myth and geological impossibilities aside (midocean ridges are called so because they are permanently under water - naturally), the global agrarian transition about 10 kyrs ago had little if nothing to do with culture advances. They came later.

Since the transition happened on all continents at about the same time, the tentative consensus I have seen is that it looks like population density was the driving factor. Managing plants meant you didn't have to starve when you had hunted out the grounds between you and the next habitation. [Sorry, no reference handy.]

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more