, Volume 52, Issue 5, pp 491-495

On the Origin of Near Eastern Founder Crops and the ‘Dump-heap Hypothesis’

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Abstract

The transition from hunting gathering to a farming based economy – the Neolithic Revolution, was a crucial junction in the human career, attracting the attention of many scholars: archaeologists, anthropologists, geographers, botanists, geneticists and evolutionists among others. Our understanding of this major transformation is rather limited mainly due to the inability to fully reconstruct the cultural, biological and environmental setup of the relevant period and organisms involved. Many students of the subject of plant domestication have seriously entertained the hypothesis that man's first crop plants have originated from weeds associated with the disturbed habitats surrounding pre-agricultural ancient human dwellings and or with human refuse heaps – the so called ‘dump heap hypothesis’. In this paper we re-examine this hypothesis in light of the known biology of the Near Eastern founder crops and the ecological preferences of their wild progenitors. Contrary to the ‘dump-heap hypothesis’, we propose that Near Eastern farming originated as a result of a long term interaction between humans and plants and was mainly driven by the nutritional features of the respective crops and cultural forces.