Skip to main content
Log in

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

  • Original Article
  • Published:
Vegetation History and Archaeobotany Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Aurenche, O., Kozlowski, S. (1999). La Naissance du Néolithique au Proche Orient. Errance, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • 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, 499–510

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 55–66

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 75–86

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 95–112

    Google Scholar 

  • Bottema, S. (1995). The Younger Dryas in the Eastern Mediterranean. Quaternary Science Reviews, 14, 883–891

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 27–38

    Google Scholar 

  • Cauvin, J. (1994). Naissance des divinités: Naissance de l’agriculture. CNRS Editions, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • Davies, P.H. (1985). Flora of Turkey and the Aegean Islands, Vol 9. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh

    Google Scholar 

  • 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, 135–157

    Google Scholar 

  • Gebel, H.G. (2004). There was no centre: The polycentric evolution of the Near Eastern Neolithic. Neo-lithics, 1/04, 28–32

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 49–54

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 9–34

    Google Scholar 

  • 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, 1312–1314

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 372–392

    Google Scholar 

  • 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, 896–904

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 87–94

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 209–236

    Google Scholar 

  • Kislev, M. (2002). Origin of annual crops by agro-evolution. Israel Journal of Plant Sciences, 50, 85–88

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • de Moulins, D. (1997). Agricultural changes at Euphrates and steppe sites in the mid-8th to the 6th millennium b.c.. BAR International Series 683

  • Neef, R. (2003). Overlooking the steppe forest: preliminary report on the botanical remains from early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe (southern Turkey). Neo-lithics, 2/03, 13–15

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 113–132

    Google Scholar 

  • 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, 1797–1801

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 170–177

    Google Scholar 

  • 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, 35–64

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 1

  • 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 544–547

  • Salamini, F. (2000). La Première céréale cultivée. Pour la Science, 274, 58–63

    Google Scholar 

  • Salamini, F., Özkan, H., Brandolini, A., Shäfre-Pregl, R. Martin, W. (2002). Cereal domestication in the Near East. Nature Reviews Genetics, 3, 429–441

    Google Scholar 

  • Schmidt, K. (2003). The 2003 Campaign at Göbekli Tepe (Southeastern Turkey). Neo-lithics, 2, 3–8

    Google Scholar 

  • stordeur, d. (2000). New discoveries in architecture and symbolism at Jerf el Ahmar (1997-1999 Syria). Neo-lithics, 1, 1–4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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, 29–44

    Google Scholar 

  • Savard, M., Nesbitt, M., Gale, R. (2003). Archaeobotanical evidence for early Neolithic diet and subsistance at M’lefaat (Iraq). Paléorient, 29, 93–106

    Google Scholar 

  • Tanno, K. (2004). Identification of PPNB plant remains from Tell El-Kerkh, Northwest Syria. IWGP-Symposium Girona 2004, Abstracts

  • 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, 54–60

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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, 122–125

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 293–299

    Google Scholar 

  • Watkins, T. (2004). Building houses, framing concepts, constructing worlds. Paléorient, 30/1, 5–24

    Google Scholar 

  • 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, 143–152

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 479–500

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 133–140

  • 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 231–238

  • 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 267–270

    Google Scholar 

  • Willcox, G. (2004). Measuring grain size and identifying Near Eastern cereal domestication: evidence from the Euphrates valley. Journal of Archaeological Science, 31, 145–50

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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, 21–24

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Willcox, G., Roitel, V. (1998). Rapport archéobotanique préliminaire de trois sites préceramiques du Moyen Euphrate (Syria). Cahiers de l’Euphrate, 8, 65–84

    Google Scholar 

  • 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, 127–136

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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, 165–256

    Google Scholar 

  • Zeist, W. van, Bakker-Heeres, J.H. (1984[1986]). Archaeobotanical studies in the Levant 3. Late Palaeolithic Mureybet. Palaeohistoria, 26, 171–199

    Google Scholar 

  • Zeist, W. van, Roller, G.J. de (1994). The plant husbandry of Aceramic Cayönü, E. Turkey. Palaeohistoria, 33/34, 65–96

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 521–50

    Google Scholar 

  • Zohary, D., Hopf, M. (2000). Domestication of plants in the Old World, 3rd edn. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

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

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to George Willcox.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Willcox, G. The distribution, natural habitats and availability of wild cereals in relation to their domestication in the Near East: multiple events, multiple centres. Veget Hist Archaeobot 14, 534–541 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-005-0075-x

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-005-0075-x

Keywords

Navigation