Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 187–197 | Cite as

Fruit collection and early evidence for horticulture in the Hexi Corridor, NW China, based on charcoal evidence

  • Hui Shen
  • Xinying Zhou
  • Alison Betts
  • Peter Weiming Jia
  • Keliang Zhao
  • Xiaoqiang LiEmail author
Original Article


The reconstruction of fruit collection and cultivation based on plant remains plays an important role in understanding the subsistence strategies of ancient societies. Here, we report the identification of fossil charcoal from eight sites in the Hexi Corridor to give a clue to the early exploitation of fruit resources in the period 2300–400 bc. Charcoal assemblages show that millet farmers may have collected some tree fruits including bird cherry (Padus sp.), pear (Pyrus sp.) and whitebeam (Sorbus sp.) in the period 2300–2000 bc. From 2000 to 1500 bc there was continuing utilization of Padus sp., Sorbus sp. and cotoneaster (Cotoneaster sp.), at a time when cereal agriculture of wheat and barley had been introduced from outside. Based on analysis of ecological distribution, reproductive biology and the history of utilization, we infer that these fruits were gathered from the wild rather than cultivated. Later, the cultivation of non-native mulberry (Morus alba) began around 1500 bc in the context of an established high-yield wheat agriculture, probably indicating the earliest sign of horticulture in the Hexi Corridor. As with the beginning of agriculture, the horticulture is associated with cultivation of non-native species. In short, the variations in the presence of charred wood of fruit trees indicate that people might have collected wild fruits over a period of time, and that horticulture occurred much later than the spread of a variety of cereal and other crops in the Hexi Corridor.


Hexi Corridor Fossil charcoal Fruit trees Mulberry Horticulture 



We wish to express our gratitude to two anonymous reviewers and Nan Sun for her assistance with the charcoal identification. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41730319 and 41371003) and National Basic Research Program of China (2015CB953803).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origin of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and PaleoanthropologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.CAS Center for Excellence in Life and PaleoenvironmentBeijingChina
  3. 3.College of Earth and Planetary SciencesUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.Department of Archaeology, China Studies CentreUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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