Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 534–541 | Cite as

The distribution, natural habitats and availability of wild cereals in relation to their domestication in the Near East: multiple events, multiple centres

Original Article


In this article we examine the natural habitats and distribution of the six wild cereals: Triticum urartu (wild urartu wheat), T. boeoticum aegilopoides (single-grained wild einkorn), T. boeoticum thaoudar (two-grained wild einkorn), T. dicoccoides (wild emmer wheat), Secale spp. (wild ryes) and Hordeum spontaneum (wild barley). A comparison of late Pleistocene/early Holocene archaeobotanical assemblages in the Near East with present-day distributions of wild cereals shows a good correlation. The regional variation in the archaeobotanical cereal assemblages and the ensuing domestication provide evidence that different cereal species were domesticated independently in different areas. Some sites were not situated near wild cereal habitats and a few were located outside the limits of distribution, even accounting for moister climatic conditions. I argue here that current models which try to explain the shift to farming have tended to over-emphasize the effect of the Younger Dryas climatic change. First, it would have had only a minor effect on cereal availability. Secondly, agriculture appears to have been established after the Younger Dryas. Thirdly, there is no evidence for a single centre of origin; agriculture arose in widely separated geographic and climatic regions. And fourthly, agriculture depends on stable climatic conditions which were not established until after the Younger Dryas.


Wild cereals Habitats Domestication Near East Neolithic 



My thanks to R. Buxo, S. Fornite, D. Helmer, L. Herveux, M. Molist, D. Stordeur, E. Willcox, and colleagues at the Department of Antiquities, Damascus. Part of this ongoing work was financed by the European Union contract ICA3-CT-2002-10022. Thanks also to S. Jacomet, M. Kislev, F. Bittmann, and an anonymous reviewer for their corrections and helpful suggestions


  1. Aurenche, O., Kozlowski, S. (1999). La Naissance du Néolithique au Proche Orient. Errance, ParisGoogle Scholar
  2. Badr, A., Müller, K., Schäfer-Pregl, R., El Rabey, H., Effgen, S., Ibrahim, H.H., Pozzi, C., Rohde, W., Salamini, F. (2000). On the origin and domestication history of barley (Hordeum vulgare). Molecular Biology and Evolution, 17, 499–510Google Scholar
  3. Bar Yosef, O., Belfer-Cohen, A. (2002). Facing environmental crisis, Societal and cultural changes at the transition from the Younger Dryas to the Holocene. In: Cappers, R.T.J., Bottema, S. (eds) The dawn of farming in the Near East. Studies in Near Eastern Production, Subsistence and Environment 6. Berlin, ex oriente, pp 55–66Google Scholar
  4. Baruch, U., Bottema, S. (1999). A new pollen diagram from lake Hula, climate and anthropogenic implications in ancient lake. In: Kawanabe, H., Coulter, G.W., Roosevelt, A.C. (eds) Ancient Lakes: their cultural and biological diversity. Kenobi Productions, Belgium pp 75–86Google Scholar
  5. Blumler, M. (2002). Changing paradigms, wild cereal ecology and the origins of agriculture. In: Cappers, R.T.J., Bottema, S. (eds) The dawn of farming in the Near East. Studies in Near Eastern Production, Subsistence and Environment 6. Berlin, ex oriente, pp 95–112Google Scholar
  6. Bottema, S. (1995). The Younger Dryas in the Eastern Mediterranean. Quaternary Science Reviews, 14, 883–891CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bottema, S. (2002). The use of palynology in tracing early agriculture. In: Cappers, R.T.J., Bottema, S. (eds) The dawn of farming in the Near East. Studies in Near Eastern production, subsistence and environment 6. Berlin, ex oriente, pp 27–38Google Scholar
  8. Cauvin, J. (1994). Naissance des divinités: Naissance de l’agriculture. CNRS Editions, ParisGoogle Scholar
  9. Davies, P.H. (1985). Flora of Turkey and the Aegean Islands, Vol 9. Edinburgh University Press, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  10. Edwards, P.C., Falconer, S.E., Fall, P.L., Berelov, I., Davies, C., Meadows, J., Meegan, C., Metzger, M., Sayej, G. (2001). Archaeology and Environment of the Dead Sea Plain: preliminary results of the first season of investigations by the joint. La Trobe University/Arizona State University Project. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, 45, 135–157Google Scholar
  11. Gebel, H.G. (2004). There was no centre: The polycentric evolution of the Near Eastern Neolithic. Neo-lithics, 1/04, 28–32Google Scholar
  12. Grosman, L., Belfer-Cohen, A. (2002). Zooming on to the Younger Dryas. In: Cappers, R.T.J., Bottema, S. (eds) The dawn of farming in the Near East. Studies in Near Eastern Production, Subsistence and Environment 6. Berlin, ex oriente, pp 49–54Google Scholar
  13. Helmer, D., Roitel, V., Sana, M., Willcox, G. (1998). Interprétations environnementales des données archéozoologiques et archéobotaniques en Syrie du nord de 16000 BP à 7000 BP, et les débuts de la domestication des plantes et des animaux. Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies, Bulletin, 33, pp 9–34Google Scholar
  14. Heun, M., Schäfer-Pregl, R., Klawan, D., Castagna, R., Accerbi, M., Borghi, B., Salamini, F. (1997). Einkorn wheat domestication identified by DNA fingerprinting. Science, 278, 1312–1314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hillman, G.(2000). Plant food economy of Abu Hureyra. In: Moore, A., Hillman, G., Legge, T. (eds) Village on the Euphrates, from foraging to farming at Abu Hureyra. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 372–392Google Scholar
  16. Ishii, T., Mori, N., Ogihara, Y. (2001). Evaluation of allelic diversity at chloroplast microsatellite loci among common wheat and its ancestral species. Theoretical Applied Genetics, 103, 896–904CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kislev, M. (1992). Agriculture in the Near East in the VIIth millennium b.c.. In: Anderson, P. (ed) Préhistoire de l’agriculture. Monographie du CRA n°6, Editions CNRS, Paris, pp 87–94Google Scholar
  18. Kislev, M. (1997). Early agriculture and palaeoecology of Netiv Hagdud. In: Bar-Yosef, O., Gopher, A. (eds) An early Neolithic village in the Jordan valley. Part 1. The archaeology of Netiv Hagdud. American School of Prehistoric Research Bulletin 43, Peabody Museum, pp 209–236Google Scholar
  19. Kislev, M. (2002). Origin of annual crops by agro-evolution. Israel Journal of Plant Sciences, 50, 85–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. de Moulins, D. (1997). Agricultural changes at Euphrates and steppe sites in the mid-8th to the 6th millennium b.c.. BAR International Series 683Google Scholar
  21. Neef, R. (2003). Overlooking the steppe forest: preliminary report on the botanical remains from early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe (southern Turkey). Neo-lithics, 2/03, 13–15Google Scholar
  22. Nesbitt, M. (2002). When and where did domesticated cereals first occur in southwest Asia?. In: Cappers, R.T.J., Bottema, S. (eds) The dawn of farming in the Near East. Studies in Near Eastern production, subsistence and environment, 6. Berlin, ex oriente, pp 113–132Google Scholar
  23. Ozakan, H., Brandolini, A., Schäfer-Pregl, R., Salamini, F. (2002). AFLP Analysis of a collection of tetraploid wheats Indicates the Origin of T. dicoccoïdes and hard wheat domestication in southeast Turkey. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 19, 1797–1801Google Scholar
  24. Pasternak, R. (1998). Investigations of botanical remains from Nevali Cori PPNB, Turkey. In: Damania, A., Valkoun, J., Willcox, G., Qualset, C. (eds) The origins of agriculture and crop domestication. Syria: ICARDA, Aleppo, pp 170–177Google Scholar
  25. Peltenburg, E., Colledge, S., Croft, P., Jackson, A., McCartney, C., Murray, M.A. (2001). Neolithic dispersals from the Levantine corridor: a Mediteranean perspective. Levant, 33, 35–64Google Scholar
  26. Pessin, H. (2004). Stratégies d’approvisionnement et utilisation du bois dans le Moyen Euphrate et la Damascène. Approche anthracologique comparative de sites historiques et préhistoriques. Doctoral thesis, Université de Paris 1Google Scholar
  27. Roitel, V., Willcox, G. (2000). Analysis of charcoal from Abu Hureyra. In: Moore, A.M.T., Hillman, G., Legge, T. (eds) A village on the Euphrates. Oxford University Press, pp 544–547Google Scholar
  28. Salamini, F. (2000). La Première céréale cultivée. Pour la Science, 274, 58–63Google Scholar
  29. Salamini, F., Özkan, H., Brandolini, A., Shäfre-Pregl, R. Martin, W. (2002). Cereal domestication in the Near East. Nature Reviews Genetics, 3, 429–441Google Scholar
  30. Schmidt, K. (2003). The 2003 Campaign at Göbekli Tepe (Southeastern Turkey). Neo-lithics, 2, 3–8Google Scholar
  31. stordeur, d. (2000). New discoveries in architecture and symbolism at Jerf el Ahmar (1997-1999 Syria). Neo-lithics, 1, 1–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Stordeur, D., Brenet, M., Der Aprahmian, G., Roux, J.-Cl. (2000). Les bâtiments communautaires de Jerf el Ahmar et Mureybet. Horizon PPNA. Syrie. Paléorient, 26, 29–44Google Scholar
  33. Savard, M., Nesbitt, M., Gale, R. (2003). Archaeobotanical evidence for early Neolithic diet and subsistance at M’lefaat (Iraq). Paléorient, 29, 93–106Google Scholar
  34. Tanno, K. (2004). Identification of PPNB plant remains from Tell El-Kerkh, Northwest Syria. IWGP-Symposium Girona 2004, AbstractsGoogle Scholar
  35. Tanno, K., Taketa, S., Takeda, K., Komatsuda, T. (2002). A DNA marker closely linked to the vrs1 locus (row-type gene) indicates multiple origins of six-rowed cultivated barley (Hordeum vulgare L.). Theoretical Applied Genetics, 104, 54–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Thuillet, A.-C., David, P., Roumet, P., Santoni, S., Sourdille, P., Bataillon, T. (2002). Direct estimation of mutation rate for 10 microsatellite loci in durum wheat, Triticum turgidum (L.) Thell. ssp durum desf. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 19, 122–125Google Scholar
  37. Valkoun, J., Giles, J., Waines, J., Konopka, J. (1998). Current distribution and habitat of wild wheats and barley. In: Damania, A., Valkoun, J., Willcox, G. Qualset, C. (eds) The origins of agriculture and crop domestication. Syria: ICARDA, Aleppo, pp 293–299Google Scholar
  38. Watkins, T. (2004). Building houses, framing concepts, constructing worlds. Paléorient, 30/1, 5–24Google Scholar
  39. Willcox, G. (1996). Evidence for plant exploitation and vegetation history from three Early Neolithic pre-pottery sites on the Euphrates (Syria). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 5, 143–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Willcox, G. (1999). Agrarian change and the beginnings of cultivation in the Near East: Evidence from wild progenitors, experimental cultivation and archaeobotanical data. In: Hather, J., Gosden, C. (eds) The Prehistory of food. Routledge, London, pp 479–500Google Scholar
  41. Willcox, G. (2002). Geographical variation in major cereal components and evidence for independent domestication events in the Western Asia. In: Cappers, R.T.J., Bottema, S. (eds) The dawn of farming in the Near East. Studies in Near Eastern Production, Subsistence and Environment, 6. 1999. Berlin, ex oriente. pp 133–140Google Scholar
  42. Willcox, G. (2003a). The origins of Cypriot farming. In: Guilaine, J., Le Brun, A. (eds) Le Néolithique de Chypre. Actes du Colloque International Organisé par le Département des Antiquités de Chypre et l’Ecole Française d’Athènes. Nicosie 17–19 mai 2001. Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique Supplément 43, pp 231–238Google Scholar
  43. Willcox, G. (2003b). Chalcolithic carbonised cereals from Ubaid burnt storage structures at Kosak Shamali. In: Nishiaki, Y., Matsutani, T. (eds) Tell Kosak Shamali vol. II. University Museum the University of Tokyo, Monograph, pp 267–270Google Scholar
  44. Willcox, G. (2004). Measuring grain size and identifying Near Eastern cereal domestication: evidence from the Euphrates valley. Journal of Archaeological Science, 31, 145–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Willcox, G., Fornite, S. (1999). Impressions of wild cereal chaff in pisé from the tenth millennium at Jerf el Ahmar and Mureybet: northern Syria. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 8, 21–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Willcox, G., Roitel, V. (1998). Rapport archéobotanique préliminaire de trois sites préceramiques du Moyen Euphrate (Syria). Cahiers de l’Euphrate, 8, 65–84Google Scholar
  47. Yasuda, Y., Kitagawa, H., Nakagawa, T. (2000). The earliest record of major anthropogenic deforestation in the Ghab valley, northwest Syria: a palynological study. Quaternary International, 73/74, 127–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zeist, W. van, Bakker-Heeres, J.H. (1982). Archaeobotanical studies in the Levant 1. Neolithic Sites in the Damascus Basin: Aswad, Ghoraife, Ramad. Palaeohistoria, 24, 165–256Google Scholar
  49. Zeist, W. van, Bakker-Heeres, J.H. (1984[1986]). Archaeobotanical studies in the Levant 3. Late Palaeolithic Mureybet. Palaeohistoria, 26, 171–199Google Scholar
  50. Zeist, W. van, Roller, G.J. de (1994). The plant husbandry of Aceramic Cayönü, E. Turkey. Palaeohistoria, 33/34, 65–96Google Scholar
  51. van Zeist, W., Waterbolk-van Rooijen, W. (1996). Cultivated and wild plants. In: Akkermans,P. (ed) Tell Sabi Abyad: the later Neolithic settlement. Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut, Istanbul, pp 521–50Google Scholar
  52. Zohary, D., Hopf, M. (2000). Domestication of plants in the Old World, 3rd edn. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CNRS Archéorient UMR 5133BerriasFrance

Personalised recommendations