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WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS—First domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, wheat and barley took vastly different routes to China, with barley switching from a winter to both a winter and summer crop during a thousand-year detour along the southern Tibetan Plateau, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.
“The eastern dispersals of wheat and barley were distinct in both space and time,” said Xinyi Liu, assistant professor of archaeology in Arts & Sciences, and lead author of this study published in the journal PLOS One.
“Wheat was introduced to central China in the second or third millennium B.C., but barley did not arrive there until the first millennium B.C.,” Liu said. “While previous research suggests wheat cultivation moved east along the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, our study calls attention to the possibility of a southern route (via India and Tibet) for barley.”
Based on the radiocarbon analysis of 70 ancient barley grains recovered from archaeological sites in China, India, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, together with DNA and ancient textual evidence, the study tackles the mystery of why ancient Chinese farmers would change the seasonality of a barley crop that originated in a latitudinal range similar to their own.
The answer, Liu explains, is that barley changed from a winter to summer crop during its passage to China, a period in which it spent hundreds of years evolving traits that allowed it to thrive during short summer growing seasons in the highlands of Tibet and northern India.
“Barley arrives in central China later than wheat, bringing with it a degree of genetic diversity in relation to flowering time responses,” Liu said. “We infer such diversity reflects preadaptation of barley varieties along that possible southern route to seasonal challenges, particularly the high altitude effect, and that led to the origins of eastern spring barley.”
Liu’s research on the dispersal of wheat and barley cultivation adds a new chapter to our understanding of prehistoric food globalization, a process that began about 5000 B.C. and intensified around 1500 B.C. This ongoing research traces the geographic paths and dispersal times of crops and cultivation systems that expanded across Eurasia and eventually worldwide, from points of origination in North Africa and West, East and South Asia. The eastern expansion of wheat and barley is a key story in this process.
In the hot, arid southwest Asian region where wheat and barley were first domesticated, they were grown between autumn and subsequent spring to complete their life cycles before arrival of summer droughts. These early domesticated strains included genes carried over from wild grasses that triggered flowering and grain production as days grew longer with the approach of summer.
Because of this spring-flowering life cycle, early domesticated varieties of wheat and barley were poorly suited for cultivation in northern European climates with severe winters and a different day length pattern. Previous research by the second author in this study, Diane Lister, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge, has shown that barley and wheat adapted to European climates by evolving a mutation that switched off the genes that made flowering sensitive to increases in day length, allowing them to be sown in spring and harvested in fall.
Liu’s study shows that barley evolved similar mutations on its way to China as farmers pushed its cultivation high into the mountains of the Tibetan Plateau. By the time barley reached central China, its genetic makeup had been altered so that flowering was no longer triggered by day length, allowing it to be planted in both spring and fall.
The ancient movement of wheat and barley cultivation into China offers two distinct stories about the adaption of newly introduced crops into an existing agrarian/culinary system, Liu said.
Ancient wheat that traveled to China along Silk Road routes also was genetically modified by farmers who selected strains that produced small-sized grains more suited to a Chinese cuisine that prepared them by boiling or steaming the whole grains. Larger wheat grains evolved in Europe where wheat was traditionally ground for flour.
Along the southern migration route for barley, the main story is the flowering time—changed by farmers to gain control over the seasonal pressures of high-altitude cultivation, Liu said.
Recovery of these ancient grains has become more routine in the last decade as scholars mastered a flotation technique that allows the separation of seeds and other minute biological material from excavated dirt immersed in a bucket of water. This approach, pioneered in China by the third author of this study, Zhijun Zhao, a professor of archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has transformed the understanding of ancient farming in China.
The PLOS One findings reflect the contributions of 26 co-authors, including archaeologists who recovered the grains and those who analyzed them at leading archaeobotanical laboratories in the U.S., U.K., China and India. The team also includes leading experts for barley archaeogenetics, radiocarbon analysis and agricultural history around the globe.
“We’ve recently realized how much prehistoric crops moved around, on a scale much greater than anyone had envisaged,” said senior co-author Martin Jones, the George Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science at Cambridge. “An intensive study of chronology, genetics and crop records now reveals how those movements laid the agrarian foundations of Bronze Age civilizations, enabling the control of seasons, and opening the way for rotation and multi-cropping.”

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Note: some of the details in the photo below were hard to copy clearly due to the colors of the text. please zoom to get a better look.

jlp

 

Original article:

popular archaeology

BOYCE THOMPSON INSTITUTE—Centuries ago, the ancient networks of the Silk Road facilitated a political and economic openness between the nations of Eurasia. But this network also opened pathways for genetic exchange that shaped one of the world’s most popular fruits: the apple. As travelers journeyed east and west along the Silk Road, trading their goods and ideas, they brought with them hitchhiking apple seeds, discarded from the choicest fruit they pulled from wild trees. This early selection would eventually lead to the 7,500 varieties of apple that exist today.
Researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) have been working hard to excavate the mysteries of the apple’s evolutionary history, and a new publication this week in Nature Communications reveals surprising insights into the genetic exchange that brought us today’s modern, domesticated apple, Malus domestica.
In collaboration with scientists from Cornell University and Shandong Agricultural University in China, the researchers sequenced and compared the genomes of 117 diverse apple accessions, including M. domestica and 23 wild species from North America, Europe, and East and central Asia.
A tale of two roads
The most exciting outcome of this genomic comparison is a comprehensive map of the apple’s evolutionary history. Previous studies have shown that the common apple, Malus domestica arose from the central Asian wild apple, Malus sieversii, with contributions from crabapples along the Silk Road as it was brought west to Europe.
With the results of this new study, the researchers could zoom in on the map for better resolution. “We narrowed down the origin of domesticated apple from very broad central Asia to Kazakhstan area west of Tian Shan Mountain,” explained Zhangjun Fei, BTI professor and lead author of this study.
In addition to pinpointing the western apple’s origin, the authors were excited to discover that the first domesticated apple had also traveled to the east, hybridizing with local wild apples along the way, yielding the ancestors of soft, dessert apples cultivated in China today.
“We pointed out two major evolutionary routes, west and east, along the Silk Road, revealing fruit quality changes in every step along the way,” summarized Fei.
Although wild M. sieversii grows east of Tian Shan Mountain, in the Xinjiang region of China, the ecotype there was never cultivated, and did not contribute to the eastern domesticated hybrid. Instead, it has remained isolated all these centuries, maintaining a pool of diversity yet untapped by human selection. First-author Yang Bai remarked, “it is a hidden jewel for apple breeders to explore further.”
The sour (but firm) side of the story
As the apple traveled west along the Silk Road in the hands of travelers, trees grew from dropped seeds and crossed with other wild apple varieties, including the incredibly sour European crabapple, Malus sylvestris. The sourness of crabapples was once described by Henry David Thoreau as, “sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge and make a jay scream.”
The authors found that M. sylvestris has contributed so extensively to the apple’s genome that the modern apple is actually more similar to the sour crabapple than to its Kazakhstani ancestor, M. sieversii.
“For the ancestral species, Malus sieversii, the fruits are generally much larger than other wild apples. They are also soft and have a very plain flavor that people don’t like much,” Bai remarked.
The hybridization between ancient cultivated apples and M. sylvestris, followed by extensive human selection, gave us new apples that are larger and fuller in flavor, and with a crispy firmness that gives them a longer shelf life.
Bai further explained, “The modern domesticated apples have higher and well-balanced sugar and organic acid contents. That is how the apple started to become a popular and favored fruit.”
A sizeable discovery with big potential
A new flavor and texture may have put the apple into our pies, but size matters a great deal too. In crop breeding, one of the most desirable traits selected for is a larger fruit or seed. In nearly all cases of fruit domestication, the wild ancestor has tiny fruit that were shaped into their large, nutritious cultivated counterpart through centuries of selection. For example, the domesticated tomato is at least 100 times larger than its wild relatives.
“This is not quite the case for apple. Its domestication started with a medium to large-sized fruit,” asserted Bai. “It has great potential for further enlarging fruit size in breeding programs.”
By comparing the many different apple genomes, the researchers were able to find evidence supporting two different evolutionary steps contributing to apple’s size increase – one before, and one after domestication.
The large size of Malus sieversii compared to other wild apples gave it a great advantage for domestication. It had already evolved to a suitable size before it was even cultivated, likely making it more attractive to growers who would then not need to spend much effort selecting for larger fruits.
Such a lack of size selection also means that the genes responsible for size increase still retain a variability that holds potential for future selection. But it can also make identification of the size-associated genes difficult. Despite this, the extensive breadth of the new study allowed the researchers to identify several genetic markers underlying the fruit size increases, which is great news for breeders who might want to further increase the apple’s girth.
The apple (genome) falls far from the tree
While consumers may ask for better apples, breeders are met with difficulty when it comes to polishing apple traits. One major issue is that apple can’t self-pollinate. It can only cross with other varieties, introducing too much genetic variability with each generation. While genetic change is necessary to tweak a trait of interest, too much change will tweak everything. Combined with the several years to get from apple seed to fruit, this makes breeding for desired traits a challenge.
“The genomic regions and candidate genes under human selection for a certain trait identified in this study will be very helpful and inspiring to breeders working on the same trait,” asserted Fei, who expects that the results from this study will, “improve speed and accuracy of ‘marker-assisted selection’ in apple.”
Now with an extensive and diverse collection of representative apple genomes, thorough and careful analyses have allowed Fei’s group to distinguish important genetic markers that will greatly aid breeders in their quest for better apples – be it for disease resistance, shelf-life, taste, or even size.
When asked how big she thinks an apple could get through breeding, Bai responded with a twinkle in her eye, “Well, in my wild imagination, maybe one day it can be as big as a watermelon.”

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Original Article:

news.com.au

 

Religious dogma in the Middle Ages helped create the modern domestic chicken, research suggests.

Scientists found traits such as reduced aggression, faster egg-laying and an ability to live in close proximity to other birds emerged in chickens in about AD 1000.

Chicken evolution might have been strongly influenced by the impact of Christian beliefs on what people ate.

During the Middle Ages, religious edicts enforced fasting and the exclusion of four-legged animals from menus.

However, the consumption of chickens and eggs was permitted during fasts.

Increasing urbanisation might have helped drive the evolution of modern domesticated chickens, the study, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, said.

“Ancient DNA allows us to observe how genes have changed in the past, but the problem has always been to get high enough time resolution to link genetic evolution to potential causes,” Oxford University lead researcher Dr Liisa Loog said.

“But with enough data and a novel statistical framework, we now have timings that are precise enough to correlate them with ecological and cultural shifts.”

Chickens were domesticated from Asian jungle fowl around 6000 years ago.

But the new study, which combined DNA data from archaeological chicken bones with statistical modelling, showed some of the most important features of the present-day chicken arose in the high Middle Ages during a time of soaring demand for poultry.

They traced the evolutionary history of more than 70 chickens, looking for changes in the THSR gene that determines levels of aggression.

Natural selection favoured chickens with THSR variants that helped them cope with living close to one another, the study found.

THSR variants also led to faster egg laying and a reduced fear of humans.

A thousand years ago, just 40 per cent of the chickens studied had this gene, which is present in all modern domesticated chickens.

“We tend to think that there were wild animals and then there were domestic animals rather than thinking about the selection pressures on domestic plants and animals that varied through time,” Dr Loog said.

“This study shows how easy it is to turn a trait into something that becomes fixed in an animal in an evolutionary blink of an eye.”

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Source: Possible Pomegranate Seeds Found in Ancient Tomb – Archaeology Magazine

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photo: Prof Gary Lee Todd

photo: Prof Gary Lee Todd

 

Original Article:

arstechnica.co.uk

ByCATHLEEN O’GRADY (US) –

 

Bones and burial grounds point male children getting better-quality food.

Around 7,000 years ago in China’s Central Plains, the Yangshao culture began to flourish along the Yellow River. It was another example of the same widespread Neolithic culture that was also emerging in Europe around the time, with new developments in pottery and agriculture. In China, it dominated the region for approximately 2,000 years.

Yangshao remains have offered a team of international researchers insight into an interesting question: did gender differences change alongside agricultural practices? They argue that gender inequality emerged along with the new crops among the Yangshao. The archaeological data has some interesting signs, but it’s possible that the researchers are overstating their case: the only evidence they have is of inequality in people’s diets, which doesn’t tell us much about the structure of inequality of societies.

Millet cereals were domesticated in the region as early as 10,000 years ago and were the primary crop of Yangshao cultures. Wheat, barley, and soybeans were introduced to the region after the end of Yangshao, around 4,000 years ago, although archaeological traces of them remain low for centuries. According to historical records, they were thought to be inferior foods, suitable only for protecting the poor against famine. That only changed around 2,000 years ago, when improved technological methods made it easier to refine them.

Agricultural changes aren’t only reflected in artifacts; they show up in excavated bones, too. Millet uses a type of photosynthesis that differs from the vast majority of plants, and it’s the only domesticated plant in Early China to use this type of photosynthesis. The result of this is that the carbon signature in the bones of people who ate primarily millet looks different from that of people who ate other plants. Nitrogen traces in bones can point to the quantity of animal products in an individual’s diet.

The researchers compared Yangshao bones with remains from the Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty, which lasted from 771 to 221 BC. In the Eastern Zhou bones, they found evidence that men and women were eating different diets: men’s bones had evidence of higher consumption of animal products and millet, while women’s bones showed evidence of higher consumption of the more recent (and scorned) crops of wheat, barley, and soy. The Yangshao bones, on the other hand, generally didn’t show a significant difference, with the exception of one of the five sites studied. This suggests that “meals were no longer shared at the household level during Eastern Zhou,” the authors write.

On its own, this is not evidence of a bias favoring males. There could be cultural reasons for a gender-based split in diet that weren’t actively bad for women—although the fact that women were eating more of the food that was considered low quality is a bit telling.

But other strands of evidence corroborate the inequality story: women’s bones from Eastern Zhou, but not Yangshao, showed more signs of childhood malnutrition, and size differences between the sexes increased from Yangshao to Eastern Zhou. Both of these signs indicate that male children had better quality food, pointing to greater parental investment in male children. And female graves in Eastern Zhou had fewer burial items and were less likely to have a coffin than male graves, while again, Yangshao graves were more egalitarian.

It’s an interesting result, but it’s always a mistake to draw too many parallels with modern society from archaeological research. It’s also not clear that this is really evidence of the first emergence of gender inequality in this region of China.

It is evidence of a massive cultural change in how the genders related to each other, certainly. But food-based inequality isn’t the only kind of gender inequality that a society might practice—there are plenty of inarguably patriarchal modern societies where families eat meals together. It’s entirely possible that Yangshao did have inequality, but that it took a different shape and would have left a different kind of archaeological presence.

An open question is how the change in gender practices and agriculture are interwoven. Did the change in agriculture itself lead to the change in gender norms? The causal story is likely to be complicated, and the authors of the paper steer clear of suggesting that one led to the other, but the relationship between them is something that future research can hopefully illuminate.

PNAS, 2016. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1611742114 (About DOIs).

This post originated on Ars Technica

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Top image: The type of cauldron in which the 2,000-year-old beef stew was found hasn’t been released, but this example of an ancient Chinese cauldron dates to the Yangshao Culture in Henan Province. ( Wikimedia Commons photo /Gary Lee Todd)

Top image: The type of cauldron in which the 2,000-year-old beef stew was found hasn’t been released, but this example of an ancient Chinese cauldron dates to the Yangshao Culture in Henan Province. ( Wikimedia Commons photo /Gary Lee Todd)

Original Article:

By Mark Miller

ancient-origins.net

 

Ancient remnants of oxen stew partially preserved in a cauldron, have been found in the tomb of a Chinese nobleman. The tomb, in Henan Province near the city of Xinyang, dates back about 2,000 years in an area of the Chu Kingdom of the Warring States period. Officials are keeping the exact location of the tomb a secret for reasons of security.

The stew or meat soup contains oxen bones, meat and other ingredients, though stories on the Internet did not mention the other contents. The presence of the bones prompted archaeologists to conclude the cauldron contained beef soup or beef stew.

A brief article on the find in China’s Global Times website says the favorite foods of nobility were often buried with them so they could have feasts in the afterlife.

Global Times mentions other ancient finds of foods dating to antiquity, including:

A pot of lotus root soup from the Han Dynasty of 206 BC to 220 AD was unearthed at Hunan Provinces’ Mawangdui Tombs in 1972.
Dumplings from a Tang Dynasty tomb dating to between 618 and 907 AD in Turpan of Xinjiang region.
About 26 liters (6.87 gallons) of ancient baijiu liquor at Xi’an City of a Shaanxi Province

 

 

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Excavating a pit from which archaeobotanical samples were collected at the Indus Civilization site of Masudpur I in northwest India. Credit: Cameron Petrie

Excavating a pit from which archaeobotanical samples were collected at the Indus Civilization site of Masudpur I in northwest India. Credit: Cameron Petrie

 

Original article:

popular-archaeology.com

Rice was used as a ‘summer crop’ by the Indus civilization.

UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—The latest research on archaeological sites of the ancient Indus Civilisation, which stretched across what is now Pakistan and northwest India during the Bronze Age, has revealed that domesticated rice farming in South Asia began far earlier than previously believed, and may have developed in tandem with – rather than as a result of – rice domestication in China.

The research also confirms that Indus populations were the earliest people to use complex multi-cropping strategies across both seasons, growing foods during summer (rice, millets and beans) and winter (wheat, barley and pulses), which required different watering regimes. The findings suggest a network of regional farmers supplied assorted produce to the markets of the civilisation’s ancient cities.

Evidence for very early rice use has been known from the site of Lahuradewa in the central Ganges basin, but it has long been thought that domesticated rice agriculture didn’t reach South Asia until towards the end of the Indus era, when the wetland rice arrived from China around 2000 BC. Researchers found evidence of domesticated rice in South Asia as much as 430 years earlier.

The new research is published today in the journals Antiquity and Journal of Archaeological Science by researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Division of Archaeology, in collaboration with colleagues at Banaras Hindu University and the University of Oxford.

“We found evidence for an entirely separate domestication process in ancient South Asia, likely based around the wild species Oryza nivara. This led to the local development of a mix of ‘wetland’ and ‘dryland’ agriculture of local Oryza sativa indica rice agriculture before the truly ‘wetland’ Chinese rice, Oryza sativa japonica, arrived around 2000 BC,” says study co-author Dr Jennifer Bates

“While wetland rice is more productive, and took over to a large extent when introduced from China, our findings appear to show there was already a long-held and sustainable culture of rice production in India as a widespread summer addition to the winter cropping during the Indus civilisation.”

Co-author Dr Cameron Petrie says that the location of the Indus in a part of the world that received both summer and winter rains may have encouraged the development of seasonal crop rotation before other major civilisations of the time, such as Ancient Egypt and China’s Shang Dynasty.

“Most contemporary civilisations initially utilised either winter crops, such as the Mesopotamian reliance on wheat and barley, or the summer crops of rice and millet in China – producing surplus with the aim of stockpiling,” says Petrie.

“However, the area inhabited by the Indus is at a meteorological crossroads, and we found evidence of year-long farming that predates its appearance in the other ancient river valley civilisations.”

The archaeologists sifted for traces of ancient grains in the remains of several Indus villages within a few kilometers of the site called Rakhigari: the most recently excavated of the Indus cities that may have maintained a population of some 40,000.

As well as the winter staples of wheat and barley and winter pulses like peas and vetches, they found evidence of summer crops: including domesticated rice, but also millet and the tropical beans urad and horsegram, and used radiocarbon dating to provide the first absolute dates for Indus multi-cropping: 2890-2630 BC for millets and winter pulses, 2580-2460 BC for horsegram, and 2430-2140 BC for rice.

Millets are a group of small grain, now most commonly used in birdseed, which Petrie describes as “often being used as something to eat when there isn’t much else”. Urad beans, however, are a relative of the mung bean, often used in popular types of Indian dhal today.

In contrast with evidence from elsewhere in the region, the village sites around Rakhigari reveal that summer crops appear to have been much more popular than the wheats of winter.

The researchers say this may have been down to the environmental variation in this part of the former civilisation: on the seasonally flooded Ghaggar-Hakra plains where different rainfall patterns and vegetation would have lent themselves to crop diversification – potentially creating local food cultures within individual areas.

This variety of crops may have been transported to the cities. Urban hubs may have served as melting pots for produce from regional growers, as well as meats and spices, and evidence for spices have been found elsewhere in the region.

While they don’t yet know what crops were being consumed at Rakhigarhi, Jennifer Bates points out that: “It is certainly possible that a sustainable food economy across the Indus zone was achieved through growing a diverse range of crops, with choice being influenced by local conditions.

“It is also possible that there was trade and exchange in staple crops between populations living in different regions, though this is an idea that remains to be tested.”

“Such a diverse system was probably well suited to mitigating risk from shifts in climate,” adds Cameron Petrie. “It may be that some of today’s farming monocultures could learn from the local crop diversity of the Indus people 4,000 years ago.”

The findings are the latest from the Land, Water and Settlement Project, which has been conducting research on the ancient Indus Civilisation in northwest India since 2008.

Article Source: University of Cambridge news release.

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