Crops evolved 10 millennia earlier than thought

Crops evolved 10 millennia earlier than thought
Credit: University of Warwick

Ancient hunter-gatherers began to systemically affect the evolution of crops up to thirty thousand years ago – around ten millennia before experts previously thought – according to new research by the University of Warwick.

Professor Robin Allaby, in Warwick's School of Life Sciences, has discovered that human crop gathering was so extensive, as long ago as the last Ice Age, that it started to have an effect on the evolution of rice, wheat and barley - triggering the process which turned these plants from wild to domesticated.

In Tell Qaramel, an area of modern day northern Syria, the research demonstrates evidence of einkorn being affected up to thirty thousand years ago, and rice has been shown to be affected more than thirteen thousand years ago in South, East and South-East Asia.

Furthermore, emmer wheat is proved to have been affected twenty-five thousand years ago in the Southern Levant – and barley in the same geographical region over twenty-one thousand years ago.

The researchers traced the timeline of crop evolution in these areas by analysing the evolving gene frequencies of archaeologically uncovered plant remains.

Wild plants contain a gene which enables them to spread or shatter their seeds widely. When a plant begins to be gathered on a large scale, human activity alters its evolution, changing this gene and causing the plant to retain its seeds instead of spreading them – thus adapting it to the human environment, and eventually agriculture.

Professor Allaby and his colleagues made calculations from archaeobotanical remains of crops mentioned above that contained 'non-shattering' genes - the which caused them to retain their seeds – and found that human gathering had already started to alter their evolution millennia before previously accepted dates.

The study shows that crop plants adapted to domestication exponentially around eight thousand years ago, with the emergence of sickle farming technology, but also that selection changed over time. It pinpoints the origins of the selective pressures leading to crop domestication much earlier, and in geological eras considered inhospitable to farming.

Demonstrating that were being gathered to the extent of being pushed towards domestication up to thirty thousand years ago proves the existence of dense populations of people at this time.

Professor Robin Allaby commented:

"This study changes the nature of the debate about the origins of agriculture, showing that very long term natural processes seem to lead to domestication - putting us on a par with the natural world, where we have species like ants that have domesticated fungi, for instance."

The research, "Geographic mosaics and changing rates of cereal ," is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Explore further

Why did hunter-gatherers first begin farming?

More information: Geographic mosaics and changing rates of cereal domestication. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0429
Citation: Crops evolved 10 millennia earlier than thought (2017, October 23) retrieved 17 October 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

Oct 23, 2017
This could be a bigger deal than you might think. Civilizations could have emerged earlier than we thought, and there may well be lost civilizations at the bottom of the Persian gulf or along now-submerged coastlines in the western hemisphere.

Oct 24, 2017
Another timeline to this perhaps? Et contacts of Swiss B Meier, explained in The Pleiadian Mission by R Winters tell us that that humankind in this Dern Universe is app 100billion years old, bringing humans to Earth from it's far Corners. These et share common ancestry with many here, 1st arriving 22M years ago. Meier's evidence is 000 film photos, 100 were analyzed by JPL, 8mm cine film, sound recordings, metal fragments. 5 US investigators spent decades trying to debunk Meier,but failed. They were led by Col Wendel Stevens, Rtd, USAF Intel. here.. https://www.youtu...B3IP1Bbg Note. Hollow, spherical, un-corroded metal spheres with symmetrical banding have been found in S African Rock strata of 2.3B years. Note. Our 5+billion year Moon is a hollow structure, mainly titanium covered, in an orbit that needs a continuous force to maintain, & should be no bigger than 25M diam, yet it's 2160M dia. https://www.youtu...FbzGCeg.

Oct 24, 2017
typo.. Meer's1000 photos.

Oct 24, 2017
typo.. Meer's1000 photos.
Ah well, that makes everything much clearer!

Oct 24, 2017
"Our 5+billion year Moon is a hollow structure, mainly titanium covered,"

Um, the lunar seismography would beg to differ...
And the retreat rate, from laser ranging, matches tidal dissipation, confirming the apparent mass.

Oct 24, 2017
"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." Amara's Law.

Oct 24, 2017
Okay, I promise to avoid ridiculing the brain dead ufomoronologists.

However, I need to correct the all too common misinterpretation of the concept of "civilization".

The most accurate translation of "civilization" is, " I am civilized because I own you as chattel. You get to grow the food and I get to eat it. They over there? Are barbarians because I have not yet enslaved them."

This all to common delusion that we can claim descent from royals and priests and other ancient forms of criminal behavior is frankly stupid!

For ten, (tens?) of thousands of years your ancestors and mine were slaves, serfs and menial servants. At best.

Unfortunately most of the accomplishments of our ancestors were very fragile and flammable. So, when was the last time you saw a tally-stick?

The monuments and artifacts that survive are the trophies of bloody-handed, egotistical ogres claiming to be demi-gods. Wanting to be one of those wielding the whip reveals ones dehumanization.

Oct 25, 2017
A question for why does your site attract so many complete whackdoodles (e.g., thomasct above)?

Oct 26, 2017
I would like to read their paper and check out the data when I get the chance. Though it seems to me that it's not such a new idea; David Rindos wrote of agriculture as a long term co-adaptive process in 1984. I always thought that this was a sensible approach, and that more research will flesh out the details.

Oct 30, 2017
Note re definition of "civilization": from the point of view of an historian or archeologist, "civilized" means "living in cities". These cities might look more like towns or villages to us, but collectively they are cities. "Civilized" is not a moral or ethical term describing a standard or style of behaviour.

Oct 30, 2017
A question for why does your site attract so many complete whackdoodles (e.g., thomasct above)?
@Nick Gotts
i am not a PO employee, but i can answer this: because they no longer moderate and the trolls have taken over the comments driving out any legitimate or scientific discourse

it's all about the money - they would loose $$ if they actually moderated per their guidelines

apparently it pays better to allow the trolls and pseudoscience cranks to flourish as PO can then pad their original poster count which then pushes them into a category of "high interest" allowing them to charge advertising more

of course, even a cursory look at said comments shows that there isn't interest so much as proselytizing pseudoscience idiots

Nov 08, 2017
Most of the lands that were dry are at some 200 to 400 feet lower sea level than we have now due to the immense amount of water locked up in the ice caps. There could be entire high tech civilizations as our own who, foolishly built mainly by the oceans, which is a very easy and economic way to travel yet when the water rises, land disappears, and so to countries and cultures along with them.

They are finding that the Indus Valley Civilization was actually a fleeing remnant that had moved from much lower lands, in a hurry, and had lost most of the tech and treasures that they had. The Indian Vedic Texts actually explain modern physics in such scary and definite terms that even Oppenheimer repeated the words of the texts "I am become Death The Destroyer of Worlds" because he had gotten some of his clues from vedic translations.

High Civilization is a cyclic thing, we ignorantly erase ourselves back to the ice and stone ages, repeatedly.

Pretty Bright Homo Sap, eh?

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