, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 157-222

Measured domestication rates in wild wheats and barley under primitive cultivation, and their archaeological implications

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Man's (or, more probably, Woman's) first cereal crops were sown from seed gathered from wild stands, and it was in the course of cultivation that domestication occurred. Experiments in the measurement of domestication rates indicate that in wild-type crops of einkorn, emmer, and barley under primitive systems of husbandry: (a) domestication will occur only if they are harvested when partially or nearly ripe, using specific harvesting methods; (b) exposure to shifting cultivation may sometimes have been required; and (c) under these conditions, the crops could become completely domesticated within 200 years, and perhaps only 20–30 years, without any conscious selection. This paper (a) considers possible delays in the start of domestication due to early crops of wild-type cereals lacking domestic-types mutants; (b) examines the husbandry practices necessary for these mutants to enjoy any selective advantage; (c) considers the state of ripeness at harvest necessary for the crops to respond to these selective pressures; (d) outlines field measurements of the selective intensities arising from analogous husbandry practices applied experimentally to living wild-type crops; (e) summarizes a mathematical model which incorporates the measured selective intensities and other key variables and which describes the rate of increase in domestic-type mutants in early populations of wild-type cereals under specific combinations of primitive husbandry practices; (f) considers why very early cultivators should have used those husbandry methods which, we suggest, led unconsciously to the domestication of wild wheats and barley; and (g) considers whether these events are likely to leave archaeologically recognizable traces.