Economic Botany

, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 39–48 | Cite as

How ancient agriculturalists managed yield fluctuations through crop selection and reliance on wild plants: An Example from Central India


Key words

Archaeology archaeobotany agricultural yields colonial texts India 

L’Importance des Plantes Sauvages pour les Anciens Agriculteurs de l’Inde


Les analyses d’agriculture prémoderne, fondées sur un modèle de récoltes “moyennes,” cachent les complexités de l’usage de plusieurs stratégies d’agriculture ainsi que de ressources naturels. Ici, l’économie de l’Inde centrale dans les premiers siècles de notre ère est établie par les données de la paléobotanique et d’archéologie, une perspective augmentée par l’étude des documents du dix-neuvième siècle. Ces documents indiquent une grand variation de récoltes d’une saison et d’une année à l’autre, et que les agriculteurs balançaient leurs besoins de soutenance physique et sociale avec plusieurs stratégies parmi lesquel l’usage des produits forestières étaient très important. L’inclusion des ces paramètres pour la période premoderne nous permet de reconstruire non seulement les activités agriculturels, mais aussi l’impact de ces activités sur les activités économiques et sociales outre du foyer domestique.


The use of “average” yields to formulate models of premodern agriculture obscures the dynamic components of agricultural decision-making. Using colonial documents and archaeological data from the Deccan region of central India, this paper illustrates the complexities of how ancient peoples mitigated fluctuations in agricultural yields. Nineteenth-century documents show striking differences in yields from year to year, and illustrate the way in which people compensated for those fluctuations by using wild foods and cultivating alternate crops that were less palatable but more reliable. Archaeobotanical, archaeological, and textual data from the Chalcolithic to the Early Historic periods (c. 1500 B.C. to 300 A.D.) indicate similar adaptive strategies, in which the early inhabitants of the region managed resources at the household level to provide subsistence security as well as the steady provision of a tradable surplus.


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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden Press 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, UCLALos Angeles

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