Original Paper

Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 115-131

First online:

Consilience of genetics and archaeobotany in the entangled history of rice

  • Dorian Q. FullerAffiliated withInstitute of Archaeology, University College London Email author 
  • , Yo-Ichiro SatoAffiliated withResearch Institute for Humanity and Nature
  • , Cristina CastilloAffiliated withInstitute of Archaeology, University College London
  • , Ling QinAffiliated withSchool of Archaeology and Museology, Peking University
  • , Alison R. WeisskopfAffiliated withInstitute of Archaeology, University College London
  • , Eleanor J. Kingwell-BanhamAffiliated withInstitute of Archaeology, University College London
  • , Jixiang SongAffiliated withInstitute of Archaeology, University College London
  • , Sung-Mo AhnAffiliated withWonkwang University
  • , Jacob van EttenAffiliated withIE University

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Major leaps forward in understanding rice both in genetics and archaeology have taken place in the past decade or so—with the publication of full draft genomes for indica and japonica rice, on the one hand, and with the spread of systematic flotation and increased recovery of archaeological spikelet bases and other rice remains on early sites in China, India and Southeast Asia. This paper will sketch a framework that coherently integrates the evidence from these burgeoning fields. This framework implies a reticulate framework in the phylogeny of early cultivated rice, with multiple starts of cultivation (two is perhaps not enough) but with the key consolidations of adaptations that must have been spread through hybridisation and therefore long-distance cultural contacts. Archaeobotanical evidence allows us to document the gradual evolutionary process of domestication through rice spikelet bases and grain size change. Separate trends in grain size change can be identified in India and China. The earliest centre of rice domestication was in the Yangtze basin of China, but a largely separate trajectory into rice cultivation can be traced in the Ganges plains of India. Intriguingly, contact-induced hybridisation is indicated for the early development of indica in northern India, ca. 2000 BC. An updated synthesis of the interwoven patterns of the spread of various rice varieties throughout Asia and to Madagascar can be suggested in which rice reached most of its historical range of important cultivation by the Iron Age.


Archaeology Oryza sativa Domestication Dispersal Neolithic