Tag Archives: domestication

Plants and people from the Early Neolithic to Shang periods in North China

Plants and people from the Early Neolithic to Shang periods in North China
Gyoung-Ah Lee*, Gary W. Crawford†,‡, Li Liu*, and Xingcan Chen§
+Author Affiliations

*Archaeology Program, La Trobe University, Victoria 3086, Australia;
†Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto Mississauga, Mississauga, ON, Canada L5L 1C6; and
§Chinese Academy of Social Science, Beijing 100710, China
Communicated by Bruce D. Smith, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, November 11, 2006 (received for review August 15, 2006)

An assemblage of charred plant remains collected from 26 sites in the Yiluo valley of North China as part of an archaeological survey spans the period from the sixth millennium to 1300 calibrated calendrical years (cal) B.C. The plant remains document a long sequence of crops, weeds, and other plants in the country. The results also demonstrate the effectiveness of sediment sampling as part of an archaeological survey. Ten accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) radiocarbon dates on crop remains inform an assessment of the sequence of agricultural development in the region. Foxtail millet (Setaria italica subsp. italica) was grown during the Early Neolithic period and was the principal crop for at least four millennia. Broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) was significantly less important throughout the sequence. Rice (Oryza sativa) was introduced by 3000 cal B.C. but apparently was not an important local crop. Wheat became a significant crop between 1600 and 1300 cal B.C. The weed flora diversified through time and were dominated by annual grasses, some of which were probably fodder for domesticated animals. The North China farming tradition that emphasized dry crops (millets, wheat, and legumes) with some rice appears to have been established at the latest by the Early Shang (Erligang; 1600–1300 B.C.) period

Early Neolithic.

Peiligang sites here are small, and cultural deposits are thin, so their representation in our sample is low. Nevertheless, foxtail millet is part of the plant assemblage at Wuluoxipo and Fudian E, in contrast to the Early Neolithic occupations at Xinglonggou in Inner Mongolia and Yuezhuang in Shandong, where broomcorn millet predominates. Weeds are represented only at Wuluoxipo by probable green foxtail grass. Both broomcorn and foxtail millet are reported from the Peiligang site (6), so the absence of broomcorn millet from the small sample in the Yiluo valley late Peiligang is not necessarily evidence of its absence. The two flotation samples, because they contain millet and annual weeds, are qualitatively similar to the rest of the Yiluo survey samples, although they are among the lowest in density of all of the samples. The low density is suggestive of less-intensive food production, but this suggestion needs to be tested by more comprehensive sampling.

Middle Neolithic

Millets are the main crop remains during the Yiluo valley Late Yangshao. Weedy annuals are also quite common. Seed densities are higher at Late Yangshao sites than in the Early Neolithic (Fig. 3), suggesting a greater intensity of crop production and land disturbance by 3500–3000 B.C. Rice phytoliths have been identified at the Yulinzhuang site, situated on the tableland near the Shengshui River (3). Charred rice is in samples that are part of the ongoing analysis of samples from the excavation phase of the Zhaocheng site (Table 1). Subsistence may have been enhanced with the introduction of rice either as a trade item or as a locally grown crop. A possible soybean is in the Zhaocheng sample, but the plant appears to have no more significance there than at other sites in the region. Climatic amelioration and fertile, stable lowlands probably contributed to the success of intensifying agricultural production with two types of millets and possibly rice and soybean being grown. By this time, a two-tiered settlement hierarchy had appeared in the region with the rise of the large center at Zhaocheng (2) in addition to a number of small sites. The other Late Yangshao occupations sampled are the comparatively small ones. The samples, one or two pits from each site, are far too few to provide a comprehensive assessment of hierarchical specialization here. In fact, the evidence for such specialization from the perspective of the plant remains is weak.

Late Neolithic.

Foxtail millet is still the dominant crop during the Longshan. Broomcorn millet density is higher in both the Early and Late Longshan period compared with other periods. Three sites have relatively dense representation of this millet, the highest for all sampled periods (Table 1). Rice is present at Huizui, and an AMS date on the rice (SNU04416) confirms its Late Longshan association in the Yiluo region (Fig. 2). Rice phytoliths have been found in pit samples at Nanshi and Luokou NE, but charred grains have not been found at either location (3). The majority of weedy grasses appear to be millet-tribe grasses (Paniceae) and exhibit far greater morphological variation than do the grasses from earlier periods. Some specimens may be Panicoideae rather than Paniceae. The mannagrass-type seeds are more common than in preceding periods, suggesting that, if the specimens are mannagrass, aquatic habitats are increasing in local significance. Anthropogenic habitats were far more extensive in the Longshan period, and people may have encouraged the grasses, possibly for fodder. Indeed, the Late Longshan Huizui occupation has significant evidence of livestock, primarily pig, but also cattle, sheep, and goat.

Population density, intensified intergroup conflict, and social stratification all increased during the Longshan in the Huanghe basin. The Late Longshan marked a significant increase in the number of sites compared with the preceding Early Longshan, when there was a significant drop in settlement numbers, perhaps representing a local depopulation. Hierarchically organized societies were well established by this time. Agricultural intensification evidenced by expansion of anthropogenic habitats and higher densities of crops correlates with these developments. Broad interregional interaction such as trade in the Yiluo region is evidenced for the first time. To what extent plants were traded is a question for further research. For example, rice may have been a product brought to the region from the south and east. Increasing land instability and climate deterioration during the third millennium B.C. did not deter agricultural intensification (9). The deterioration clearly did not go beyond the tolerances of productive agriculture.

Erlitou Period.

The trends noted for the earlier periods continue. Rice is more prevalent in the samples, although it is still rare and restricted to the large sites, particularly Shaochai. The large Erlitou-period sites also have higher weed diversity, but this may well be a factor of the larger sample size from this period. Preliminary animal-bone analysis at Huizui indicates the continuing importance of livestock. Pigs are dominant, followed by cattle, sheep/goats, and dogs. Many of the weeds are potential animal fodder as they may have been earlier in the valley. Stable isotope analyses at the Yangshao period Xipo site in western Henan provide evidence that pigs and dogs consumed substantial quantities of C4 plants, probably domesticated millet and green foxtail grass (21). Settlement number and size increased significantly during the Erlitou period, and the first major urban center emerged at the Erlitou site (3). Settlement nucleation appears in the survey area for the first time. Shaochai is a large regional administration center, subsidiary to Erlitou (3). The rest of the settlements dating to this period consist of large, medium, and small sites. Small sites have no evidence of craft specialization (2), so they were probably agricultural villages.

Erligang (Early Shang) Period.

Erligang samples are not as numerous as those from the preceding Erlitou period because of a significant reduction in population in the Yiluo valley. Most Erligang period sites are small because the primary urban center moved from Erlitou to Yanshi and subsequently ≈60 km east to Zhengzhou (2). Nevertheless, four sites have substantial plant remains. Foxtail millet still outnumbers other crops, but wheat has the second-highest representation next to foxtail millet at this time (Table 1). The Erligang association of wheat is confirmed by an AMS date (Fig. 2). Beefsteak plant, a potential domesticate for seasoning, oil, and possibly leafy greens, first appears in the flotation record at this time (SI Fig. 15). Rice constitutes a negligible proportion of the grain at the Shangzhuang and Tianposhuiku sites.

Conducting flotation during the survey stage of this project has proven to be an effective heuristic device as well as a method for developing basic knowledge of subsistence through time in a narrowly defined region, the Yiluo valley. Interpretations and limitations of the data must be contextualized in terms of sample size and type. In particular, plants that people rarely used are likely not represented in the flotation samples, so, for example, the initial appearance of introduced crops such as wheat and rice may not be resolvable yet. Two crops, hemp (C. sativa) and canola or rapeseed (B. rapa) reported from a few Neolithic sites in North China have not been found in the Yiluo sequence. Foxtail millet was an important crop, whereas broomcorn millet was a minor, secondary crop throughout the sequence. Broomcorn millet was probably an important insurance food in case of drought. We need to assess whether the Early Neolithic predominance of broomcorn over foxtail millet at Xinglonggou and Yuezhuang ca. 6000 cal B.C. is a regional phenomenon or whether broomcorn millet was domesticated earlier than foxtail millet. No occupations contemporary with these sites are known in the Yiluo valley. However, we suspect that the predominance of foxtail millet relative to broomcorn millet was established by the Late Peiligang/Early Yangshao. Rice was not domesticated in the Huanghe valley but was apparently used in the Yiluo region by Late Yangshao times as evidenced at Zhaocheng. Rice has occasionally been reported from other Yangshao contexts in North China, but none of these specimens has been AMS-dated. Its Yangshao association is feasible because it was as far north as Yuezhuang in Shandong by 6000–5800 cal B.C. AMS dates on rice clearly associate the crop with Longshan occupations at both Huizui in this study and the Liangchengzhen site in Shandong (9). If rice was a valuable commodity, it may have been consumed primarily by the elite lineages living at the largest towns that so far are the only sites with rice in the Yiluo region. However, large sites with rice are situated in the lowlands close to wetlands where rice could have been grown productively, so rice may have been a resource available mainly in these locales. More extensive sampling will help answer such questions related to the distribution and importance of rice in the region.

Wheat, the only crop in the Yiluo samples not native to East Asia, appears during the Erligang (Early Shang) period and was probably a significant crop by then. It is a rare component of Longshan period crop assemblages in Shandong (9) and elsewhere, so we surmise that it was grown in the Yiluo region during the Longshan period as well. More sampling should resolve this issue. Soybean is also a minor component of the Yiluo plant remains from Longshan times onward. Soybean domestication is an unresolved problem, with historic and archaeological data hinting that it was present from the Xia period (equivalent to the Erlitou period) and domesticated by the Zhou period. Where it was domesticated, or whether there were multiple domestications, are unanswered questions. Beefsteak plant, a potential cultigen, is rare but was also present by Erligang times. There is a limited record of this plant for the Late Neolithic period elsewhere (9). A wide range of annual weeds consistent with agricultural land disturbance and possibly fodder for domesticated animals is a component of all assemblages in the region.

Differences in site function and/or taphonomy are suggested by the contrast in seed densities between small and large sites. The highest seed densities are found at small sites, particularly from the Late Yangshao and later periods from which we have substantial samples. Crops are found in higher densities in small sites, but small Late Longshan and Erlitou sites have higher proportions and densities of crops than do larger sites. In contrast, all other artifact classes are common in the larger sites, indicating that craft production and administration occurred only in large settlements. Future research will examine this issue closely by broader sampling of a variety of contexts, particularly to test the possibility that some form of redistributive system that moved products from specialized production centers has a long history in the region. The archaeological record indicates, in fact, that social complexity was well developed by Late Yangshao times in the Yiluo valley (3). Site functions were apparently becoming specialized by the Late Yangshao; smaller settlements may have functioned mainly for agricultural production. Future research will assess whether crops were a component of the redistributive system. However, crops were probably produced as well as consumed at the large sites. Late Longshan agriculture at the large and complex Liangchengzhen and Shantaisi sites to the east have a wide variety of plant remains that vary in composition depending on their context. The same situation likely holds true in the Yiluo valley. The Yiluo plant remains are generally similar to those from both Shantaisi and Liangchengzhen with respect to both weeds and crops, suggesting that food production throughout North China shared many features. Another similarity lies in the limited evidence for the use of nuts and fleshy fruits. These and other questions pertaining to the relationship between plants and people in the Yiluo valley will be more adequately tested in the excavation phase of the project.

Materials and Methods
The Yiluo team systematically surveyed 219 km2 of alluvial plains and loess terraces (Fig. 1) (3). Sediment samples were collected from each site. Assemblages of plant remains tend to vary by context, so every reasonable effort was made to minimize the impact of contextual variation on this stage of the study by sampling the same type of context at each site. Sites are often buried 0.5–2 m below the surface, but pit features visible in vertical cuts of the loess terraces enabled the collection of samples from pits representing domestic contexts (SI Fig. 16). Pit fill normally represents secondary deposition (i.e., infill of general sediment and refuse resulting from a variety of activities by the site occupants). Thus, such samples are ideal for intersite comparisons of a general nature. Samples were collected from one to seven pits at each site depending on the number that was visible. To some extent, the soil volume collected is proportional to the number and complexity of sites in each period (Fig. 4). Individual sample volumes are proportional to the size of each pit and range from 3 to 14 liters of sediment. The relatively small sample from each site limits interpretations to discussions of fundamental similarities and differences among the assemblages. One variable that is affected by the sample size is the number of plant taxa recovered. The number of taxa in the samples exhibits a positive correlation with sample volume (Fig. 6), so small samples tend to contain fewer plant taxa and few or no examples of plants that are rare in the collection as a whole. Details of the flotation process are available elsewhere (22), and sample processing procedures are described in SI Text.

I always associated China with rice. It’s interesting that it wasn’t their first crop. Domesticated rice first appears in Korea about 13,000 years ago. From my previous entry, it seems to have a genetic origin in the Yangzte river area. It’s quite possible that the original domestication site is underwater, as large areas of South East Asia are underwater, mostly the fertlile lowland areas wher rice would have grown, which would have put the Yangtze river delta quite close to Korea


Domestication rates in cereal and pulse crops

Contrasting Patterns in Crop Domestication and Domestication Rates: Recent Archaeobotanical Insights from the Old World
Dorian Q Fuller*
Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 31–34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY, UK

Received: 20 September 2006   
   Background: Archaeobotany, the study of plant remains from sites of ancient human activity, provides data for studying the initial evolution of domesticated plants. An important background to this is defining the domestication syndrome, those traits by which domesticated plants differ from wild relatives. These traits include features that have been selected under the conditions of cultivation. From archaeological remains the easiest traits to study are seed size and in cereal crops the loss of natural seed dispersal.

Scope: The rate at which these features evolved and the ordering in which they evolved can now be documented for a few crops of Asia and Africa. This paper explores this in einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum) and barley (Hordeum vulgare) from the Near East, rice (Oryza sativa) from China, mung (Vigna radiata) and urd (Vigna mungo) beans from India, and pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) from west Africa. Brief reference is made to similar data on lentils (Lens culinaris), peas (Pisum sativum), soybean (Glycine max) and adzuki bean (Vigna angularis). Available quantitative data from archaeological finds are compiled to explore changes with domestication. The disjunction in cereals between seed size increase and dispersal is explored, and rates at which these features evolved are estimated from archaeobotanical data. Contrasts between crops, especially between cereals and pulses, are examined.

Conclusions: These data suggest that in domesticated grasses, changes in grain size and shape evolved prior to non-shattering ears or panicles. Initial grain size increases may have evolved during the first centuries of cultivation, within perhaps 500–1000 years. Non-shattering infructescences were much slower, becoming fixed about 1000–2000 years later. This suggests a need to reconsider the role of sickle harvesting in domestication. Pulses, by contrast, do not show evidence for seed size increase in relation to the earliest cultivation, and seed size increase may be delayed by 2000–4000 years. This implies that conditions that were sufficient to select for larger seed size in Poaceae were not sufficient in Fabaceae. It is proposed that animal-drawn ploughs (or ards) provided the selection pressure for larger seeds in legumes. This implies different thresholds of selective pressure, for example in relation to differing seed ontogenetics and underlying genetic architecture in these families. Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) may show some similarities to the pulses in terms of a lag-time before truly larger-grained forms evolved.

As I recall, the lentils at Franchthi cave were just slightly bigger than wild lentils, suggesting that the 13,500 date for domestication could be push back possibly as much as 17,000 BP ( I’d say 15,000 BP was more likely). I’d seriously recommend reading this whole paper through if you are interested in the process of domestication of crops. It includes some Indian beans, rice, as well as African pearl millet, and is about the most comprehensive paper I’ve seen on the subject.

It also names the South Asian location of rice domestication as the middle of the Ganges valley, and has some very useful graphs showing the levels of domestication in various near Eastern sites. It suggests that an increase in seed size in cereals is evident for quite some time before a non shattering rachis is selected in. One interesting fact didn’t know was that millet was much more widely grown in China about 8,000 years ago than rice. One to read a couple of times through.

FIG. 1. An evolutionary model from foraging to agriculture, with archaeobotanical expectations indicated at the bottom (modified from Harris, 1989). The stages of pre-domestication cultivation are shaded. In this version, domestication is represented as a process of gradual frequency change, with an earlier, more rapid ‘semi-domestication’ and a later, slower fixation of full domestication. The gap in time elapsed between these two can be taken as a minimal estimate of domestication rate (d.r.).

FIG. 2. Map of south-west Asia, showing the locations of sites with archaeobotanical evidence that contributes to understanding the origins and spread of agriculture. Sites are differentiated on the basis of whether they provide evidence for pre-domestication cultivation, enlarged grains, mixed or predominantly domestic-type rachis data. Note that these sites represent a range of periods, and many sites have multiple phases of use, in which case the earliest phase with significant archaeobotanical data is represented. Shaded areas indicate the general distribution of wild progenitors (based on Zohary and Hopf, 2000, with some refinements from Willcox, 2005). It should be noted that wild emmer (Triticum dicoccoides) occurs over a sub-set of the wild barley zone, and mainly in the western part of the crescent.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the entire domestication syndrome did not suddenly appear when people began to cultivate plants. Rather, different aspects of the syndrome evolved in response to the new ecological conditions of early cultivation. What these data suggest is that in domesticated grasses, changes in grain size and shape (‘semi-domestication’) evolved prior to non-shattering ears or panicles (‘domestication’ sensu stricto). While initial grain size increases may have evolved during the first centuries of cultivation, within perhaps 500–1000 years, non-shattering was much slower, becoming fixed about 1000–2000 years subsequently. Pulses by contrast do not show evidence for seed size increase in relation to the earliest cultivation, but seed size increase may be delayed by 2000–4000 years. This implies that conditions that were sufficient to select for larger seed-size in Poaceae were not sufficient in Fabaceae. This implies different thresholds of selective pressure in relation to differing seed ontogenetics and underlying genetic architecture in these families. Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) may show some similarities to the pulses in terms of a lag-time before truly larger-grained forms evolved. These results may aid in predicting when and where certain crop domestications are likely to have occurred based on counting backwards from the earliest known domestic finds. Thus, for example, we would predict that pearl millet cultivation began by 3200–2700 BC. These results also raise questions about taxonomically linked differences in evolution under the selection forces of cultivation.

Reconsidering sickles and cereal domestication
There has been a tendency to assume that harvesting with a sickle was the selective force that led to domestication, i.e. non-shattering (as discussed above). The archaeological evidence, however, does not support this in any documented case. In China, as discussed already, rice grains begin to plump and increase in size but domestication is indicated by the shift towards predominantly mature-grained harvests (and inferred non-shattering), during the fifth millennium BC, and by approx. 4000 BC. In this region there are no clear archaeological sickles until after 3500 BC, the Later Songze period (approx. 3500 BC), after which they become widespread in the Liangzhu culture (3300–2200 BC). These sickles may be a cultural borrowing from millet cultivators in central China, where such tools were in use since at least 5000 BC (cf. Chang, 1986). Even in central and northern China, the earliest sickles occur at sites that already have millet cultivation, and earliest documented domestic millets from Xinglonggou (near Chifeng, China), before 6000 BC (Zhao, 2005), come from a culture without sickles. In China, sickles consistently represent a technology development after domesticated plants are fully established.

In the Near East sickles were in use prior to agriculture and must now be argued to be transferred to agriculture relatively late, after domestication. Preserved sickles, and more commonly lithic sickle blades, are known from Natufian contexts (13 000–10 500 BC), in a period for which there is no evidence for domesticates, and non-shattering domesticates continued to be absent through the PPNA (through 8800 BC) (see Fig. 3). Microscopic studies of ‘sickle gloss’ have been used to suggest they were cereal-harvesting (Unger-Hamilton, 1989; Anderson, 1992), but we cannot rule out harvesting of sedges (Cyperaceae) and reeds (Phragmites) as materials for basketry or thatching. As suggested by Sauer (1958), the early Natufian sickles were prototype saws, designed for raw material gathering rather than seed collecting. As indicated by the archaeobotanical evidence reviewed above, the rate of evolution of tough rachis einkorn and barley is far too slow to be accounted for by a model of strong selective pressure that would be expected if sickling was carried out regularly, as modelled by Hillman and Davies (1990). Thus, it would appear that early cultivators continued to employ the time-efficient harvesting methods associated with hunter-gatherers. Once cultivated, and populations had noticeably large proportions (majorities) of non-shattering types, then the transfer of the sickle technology to agriculture may have been seen as an obvious enhancement. In evolutionary terms the sickle is thus an ‘exaptation’ (sensu Gould and Vrba, 1982), in that it developed for some other purpose, and was later transferred to crop-harvesting of already domesticated crops.

I would propose alternative explanations for the selection of domesticated-type crops that can account for the slow creep towards domestication. As others have noted, the harvesting of cereals when green, i.e. immature, regardless of technique, will not select for domesticated types (Hillman and Davies, 1990; Willcox, 1999). Harvesting green, however, may not provide full returns from a given stand of crops, as additional seeds (including late tillers) may form and approach maturation subsequent to the harvest. For the early farmers, who have invested significant labour into a restricted unit of land, it becomes important to maximize returns from that unit of land (as noted by Hillman and Davies, 1990: 69; Bar-Yosef, 1998). This may encourage multiple episodes of harvest. Later harvestings, whether by plucking or beating, will encounter domesticated genotypes in a higher frequency than earlier harvests. If, as an aspect of random variation, some farming households choose to store the late harvest as seed for sowing the following year, those fields so sown will start an increase in the domesticated type. Other households, however, may store for sowing their earlier harvests. Therefore, taken at the level of a human community, or on a regional scale, there might be only a very small proportion of sown crop that had some selection for the domesticated type. Such a model might therefore account for significantly longer periods involved in the fixation of non-shattering types in cultivated populations. By contrast, every farmer and every sown population would be under selective pressure to germinate rapidly, leading to seed size increase and loss of germination inhibitors. Similarly, natural selection for dispersal aids such as awns will be uniformly reduced. Thus, we should expect these ‘semi-domestication’ traits to evolve more rapidly.

Domestication as an interdisciplinary study of evolution
Domestication in plants is not one thing, nor has it been one uniform process. While there are recurrent parallels, due to the same selective pressures of cultivation, different domestication traits have evolved at different rates and these have varied markedly across families, such as between cereals and legumes. Further archaeobotanical research will help to pin down the actual rates at which different domesticates evolved, and needs to be expanded to address a larger range of species. The archaeological record also provides insights into what people are doing during this evolutionary process in terms of their technologies and ecological adaptations. Understanding past domestications is an exciting area of interdisciplinary investigation, between archaeologists and plant scientists, which may offer insights relevant to future directions in the evolution of crops under human manipulation.

Figs were grown before cereal crops in Israel.

Ancient Fig Find May Push Back Birth of Agriculture

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News

June 1, 2006
An assortment of 11,400-year-old figs found in Israel may be the fruit of the world’s earliest form of agriculture, scientists say.

Archaeologists from Israel and the United States say the find suggests Stone Age humans may have been cultivating fruit trees a thousand years before the domestication of cereal grains and legumes, such as peas and beans.

“Previously, the oldest cultivated fruits were thought to be olives and grapes found in the eastern Mediterranean that were dated at about 6,000 years old.

Researchers behind the new study discovered the ancient figs at the Gilgal archaeological site in the Jordan Valley near the city of Jericho (see map of Israel.)

The nine carbonized figs were small but ripe and showed signs of having been dried for human consumption.

The finding adds a new twist to the story of agricultural origins.

The so-called agricultural revolution—when ancient humans began to domesticate crops—is now increasingly seen as a long and multifaceted transition, as humans gradually shifted from scattered planting of wild grains to farming with domesticated varieties.

Early-agriculture specialist Mordechai Kislev, of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, says fig cultivation may amount to a previously unknown phase of this transition, fitting between the sowing of wild grains and the raising of domesticated cereal crops.

“Domestication of the fig seems to comprise a new stage,” Kislev said.

Kislev is the lead author of the new study, along with Anat Hartmann, also of Bar-Ilan, and Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University.

The researchers report their findings in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Science

The researchers’ case that the Gilgal fruits were deliberately cultivated rests on an idiosyncrasy of fig genetics.

Normally, pollination by specialized wasps is required for fig trees to bear edible fruit.

Occasionally, however, a mutation occurs that allows fruit to develop from unfertilized female flowers, a process known as parthenocarpy.

Some figs grown commercially today are of this variety. Apparently, so were the Stone Age figs at Gilgal.

Microscopic analysis revealed that the figs lacked embryonic seeds, a distinguishing feature of the mutant form, in which fruit are produced without pollination.

“The mutation does not survive in nature more than a single generation,” Kislev said.

That means the fig trees at Gilgal could not have been reproducing naturally.

The large cache of fruit fragments recovered from the site suggests that humans were maintaining the mutant trees by planting live branches in the ground.

Kislev says fig trees are particularly amenable to this common horticultural technique, called vegetative propagation.

Additional fig remains have been recovered from other sites throughout the Middle East, and at least some appear to be of the Gilgal variety.

To Kislev, this suggests that choice trees were being transported and planted to increase agricultural yield at different locations.

Constant Gardeners

“The early propagation of fig trees, if true, has a rather important effect on the way we view the Neolithic [or Late Stone Age],” said archaeologist Joy McCorriston, of Ohio State University in Columbus.

The Neolithic is a loosely dated period of cultural development marked by the invention of agriculture, improved stone stools, and sedentary village life.

McCorriston notes that although planting shoots of fig trees may be simple, early fig farmers would have had to wait several years for their reward.

This suggests relatively long-term ties to land and perhaps new social and economic arrangements prior to the full-scale adoption of an agricultural lifestyle.

“Ownership of trees [may have] provided a way of mapping society onto physical space,” McCorriston said.

As objects of long-term interest and care, fig trees may also have had symbolic significance.

Archaeologist Bruce Smith of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., says early fig cultivation is indicative of a general atmosphere of experimentation following the last ice age.

“Human societies were auditioning a wide range of species” for a role in the unfolding drama of agriculture, Smith said.

There’s a link to the abstract here.

This would be inthe very last days Natufian era, just as they were winding down. The Naufians had some population affinities to Nubian populations, but by this point in time this was being diluted to the point of being undetectable by input from other Eurasian populations; after the Natufian era no sub Saharan affinities are seen (C Loring Brace) and no Sub Saharan affinities are seen in any other Neolithic population of the time, including North Africa. The 11,000 BP is the point in time when Israel starts moving into the pre pottery Neolithic (PPN), and probably marks the point at which expanding proto-agriculturalists from Turkey reached Israel. 

I’ve seen a few indications that trees were planted before any other crops… hazelnuts in northern Europe, pistachio and almond in Turkey/Armenia. It’s a only small step for a hunter gatherer to stick a few nuts in the ground; either as some sort of religious rite or from the realisation that the more nut trees he plants the more nuts there will be when his kids grow up.

The order of domestication, (my best guess): nut trees at some very ancient time, then pulses about 15,000 years ago in Turkey, reaching Franchthi cave  (Greece) about 13,500 BP. Cultivated cereals turn up about 2,000 years later in Franchthi, even wild cereals are 500 years later than the nuts and pulses. I guess figs were probably in orchards before domesticated grains reached the middle east.

Animal domestication is older than previously thought

NY times article

Like this surprises me much, I’ve said before that it was older than claimed. At least this map agrees with my points of domestication (I did something similar a few months ago). I’ve always maintained Southern Turkey was the origin point of the Western Neolithic revolution.

The invention of agriculture was a pivotal event in human history, but archaeologists studying its origins may have made a simple error in dating the domestication of animals like sheep and goats. The signal of the process, they believed, was the first appearance in the archaeological record of smaller boned animals. But in fact this reflects just a switch to culling females, which are smaller than males, concludes Melinda Zeder, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution.

Using a different criterion, that of when herds first show signs of human management, Dr. Zeder finds that goats and sheep were first domesticated about 11,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought, with pigs and cattle following shortly afterwards. The map, from her article in the August 11 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the regions and dates where the four species were first domesticated. Other dates, color-coded as to species, show where domesticated animals first appear elsewhere in the Fertile Crescent.

The earlier dates mean that animals were domesticated at much the same time as crop plants, and bear on the issue of how this ensemble of new agricultural species – the farming package known as the Neolithic revolution – spread from the Near East to Europe.

Some experts say the technology spread by cultural diffusion, others that the first farmers themselves moved into Europe, bringing their new technology with them and displacing the resident hunter gatherers.

Dr. Zeder concludes that both processes were involved. A test case is the island of Cyprus, where the four domesticated species of livestock appear as early as 10,500 years ago, replacing native fauna such as pygmy elephants and pygmy hippopotamuses (large animals often get downsized in island settings).

Since Cyprus lies 60 kilometers off the Turkish coast, the suite of agricultural species must have been brought there on boats by the new farmers. That establishes one episode of colonization, and Dr. Zeder sees evidence for several others. The second map shows, in red circles, the dates when farming colonists’ enclaves were set up around the Mediterranean.

Dr. Zeder believes that in France and Spain the indigenous hunter gatherers adopted the new farming technology by cultural diffusion (shown as green dots). The farmers themselves settled the regions that are now Turkey and the Balkans (red dots) but in surrounding areas they integrated with indigenous peoples (blue dots).

Dr. Zeder says her evidence indicates that several waves of settlers spread the new farming technology through the Mediterranean. It’s yet not known what drove the expansion, or what the relationship was between the colonists and the native inhabitants. Studies of ancient DNA, she said, may help test her thesis that farming spread through a mix of colonization and cultural diffusion.

The logic that is used to observe the livestock arriving in Cyprus is similar to my dating of agriculture arriving at Francthi cave; essentially multiple crop plants make a simulaneous appearance in Francthi cave about 11,000 years ago (500 years before cereals are seen).

A nicely dated map/timeline of the expansion of farming (well, it’s a bit out, as Francthi in Greece was 11,000 BP)

I’m feeling moderately smug now. Told ’em so.

DNA and the domestication of cattle.

African, Asian and European cattle.

Archaeological evidence suggests that cattle were first domesticated In Turkey, in the Catal Hoyuk area, from about 10,000 years ago. DNA suggests that there was a second domestication, with archaeological evidence dating that to about 7,000 years ago (pre-Harappan in Pakistan). As yet, no DNA evidence for an independent African domestication, just hybridisation. It also suggests European cattle contain some wild auroch DNA.

Mitochondrial genomes of extinct aurochs survive in domestic cattle

Archaeological and genetic evidence suggest that modern cattle might result from two domestication events of aurochs (Bos primigenius) in southwest Asia, which gave rise to taurine (Bos taurus) and zebuine (Bos indicus) cattle, respectively [1, 2, 3]. However, independent domestication in Africa [4, 5] and East Asia [6] has also been postulated and ancient DNA data raise the possibility of local introgression from wild aurochs [7, 8, 9]. Here, we show by sequencing entire mitochondrial genomes from modern cattle that extinct wild aurochsen from Europe occasionally transmitted their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to domesticated taurine breeds. However, the vast majority of mtDNAs belong either to haplogroup I (B. indicus) or T (B. taurus). The sequence divergence within haplogroup T is extremely low (eight-fold less than in the human mtDNA phylogeny [10]), indicating a narrow bottleneck in the recent evolutionary history of B. taurus. MtDNAs of haplotype T fall into subclades whose ages support a single Neolithic domestication event for B. taurusin the Near East, 9–11 thousand years ago (kya).

An Unusual Pattern of Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups in Northern African Cattle,

Which is too fiddly to reproduce here.

Microsatellite DNA Variation and the Evolution, Domestication and Phylogeography of Taurine and Zebu Cattle (Bos taurus and Bos indicus)

D. E. MacHugh, M. D. Shriver, R. T. Loftus, P. Cunningham and D. G. Bradley
Department of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland

Genetic variation at 20 microsatellite loci was surveyed to determine the evolutionary relationships and molecular biogeography of 20 different cattle populations from Africa, Europe and Asia. Phylogenetic reconstruction and multivariate analysis highlighted a marked distinction between humpless (taurine) and humped (zebu) cattle, providing strong support for a separate origin for domesticated zebu cattle. A molecular clock calculation using bison (Bison sp.) as an outgroup gave an estimated divergence time between the two subspecies of 610,000-850,000 years. Substantial differences in the distribution of alleles at 10 of these loci were observed between zebu and taurine cattle. These markers subsequently proved very useful for investigations of gene flow and admixture in African populations. When these data were considered in conjunction with previous mitochondrial and Y chromosomal studies, a distinctive male-mediated pattern of zebu genetic introgression was revealed. The introgression of zebu-specific alleles in African cattle afforded a high resolution perspective on the hybrid nature of African cattle populations and also suggested that certain West African populations of valuable disease-tolerant taurine cattle are under threat of genetic absorption by migrating zebu herds.
Evidence for two independent domestications of cattle.

R T Loftus, D E MacHugh, D G Bradley, P M Sharp, and P Cunningham
Department of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
AbstractThe origin and taxonomic status of domesticated cattle are controversial. Zebu and taurine breeds are differentiated primarily by the presence or absence of a hump and have been recognized as separate species (Bos indicus and Bos taurus). However, the most widely held view is that both types of cattle derive from a single domestication event 8000-10,000 years ago. We have examined mtDNA sequences from representatives of six European (taurine) breeds, three Indian (zebu) breeds, and four African (three zebu, one taurine) breeds. Similar levels of average sequence divergence were observed among animals within each of the major continental groups: 0.41% (European), 0.38% (African), and 0.42% (Indian). However, the sequences fell into two very distinct geographic lineages that do not correspond with the taurine-zebu dichotomy: all European and African breeds are in one lineage, and all Indian breeds are in the other. There was little indication of breed clustering within either lineage. Application of a molecular clock suggests that the two major mtDNA clades diverged at least 200,000, and possibly as much as 1 million, years ago. This relatively large divergence is interpreted most simply as evidence for two separate domestication events, presumably of different subspecies of the aurochs, Bos primigenius. The clustering of all African zebu mtDNA sequences within the taurine lineage is attributed to ancestral crossbreeding with the earlier B. taurus inhabitants of the continent.


Mitochondrial diversity and the origins of African and European cattle
Daniel G. Bradley, David E. MacHugh, Patrick Cunningham, and Ronan T. Loftus 

The nature of domestic cattle origins in Africa are unclear as archaeological data are relatively sparse. The earliest domesticates were humpless, or Bos taurus, in morphology and may have shared a common origin with the ancestors of European cattle in the Near East. Alternatively, local strains of the wild ox, the aurochs, may have been adopted by peoples in either continent either before or after cultural influence from the Levant. This study examines mitochondrial DNA displacement loop sequence variation in 90 extant bovines drawn from Africa, Europe, and India. Phylogeny estimation and analysis of molecular variance verify that sequences cluster significantly into continental groups. The Indian Bos indicus samples are most markedly distinct from the others, which is indicative of a B. taurus nature for both European and African ancestors. When a calibration of sequence divergence is performed using comparisons with bison sequences and an estimate of 1 Myr since the Bison/Bos Leptobos common ancestor, estimates of 117-275,000 B.P. and 22-26,000 B.P. are obtained for the separation between Indians and others and between African and European ancestors, respectively. As cattle domestication is thought to have occurred approximately 10,000 B.P., these estimates suggest the domestication of genetically discrete aurochsen strains as the origins of each continental population. Additionally, patterns of variation that are indicative of population expansions (probably associated with the domestication process) are discernible in Africa and Europe. Notably, the genetic signatures of these expansions are clearly younger than the corresponding signature of African/European divergence.
Extensive MHC class II DRB3 diversity in African and European cattle

Sofia Mikko1 and Leif Anderson1

 Genetic deversity at the highly polymorphic BoLA-DRB3 locus was investigated by DNA sequence analyses of 18 African cattle from two breeds representing the two subspecies of cattle, Bos primigenius indicus and Bos primigenius taurus. Yhe polymorphism was compared with that found in a sample ofd 32 European cattle from four breeds, all classified as B. p. taurus. Particularly extensive genetic diversity was found among African cattle, in which as many as 18 alleles were recognized in this small random sample of animals from two breeds. The observed similarity in allele frequency distribution between the two African populations, N’Dama and Zebu cattle, is consistent with the recent recognition of gene flow between B. p. indicus and B. P taurus cattle in Africa. A total of 30 DRB3 alleles were documented and as many as 26 of these were classified as major allelic types showing at least five amino acid substitutions compared with other major types. The observation of extensive genetic diversity at MHC loci in cattle, as well as in other farm animals, provides a compelling argument against matin-type preferences as a primary cause in maintaining major histocompatibility complex diversity, since the reproduction of these animals has been controlled by humans for many generations.
The nucleotide sequence data reported in this paper have been submitted to the EMBL nucleotide sequence database and have been given the accession numbers X87641-X87670

An Unusual Pattern of Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups in Northern African Cattle

Comparative DNA studies of the control region for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) have revealed surprising complexity in the evolutionary history of Old and New World livestock species (Bruford et al. 2003). For the greater Mediterranean area, these analyses have shown that the mitochondrial control region haplotypes for modern cattle (i.e., Bos taurus) belong to one of 4 sequence clusters or haplogroups (Fig. 1). Most (94%) modern cattle populations from Northern Africa carry haplogroup T1, which is rarely found outside of Africa (6% in the Near East and absent elsewhere). In contrast, modern populations from mainland Europe carry 2 very similar haplogroups, T and T3 (94%), which decrease in the Middle East (65%-74%) and almost completely disappear in Africa (6%). Haplogroup T2 makes up the remainder of this mtDNA diversity and is present at 6% in Europe and 21%-27% in the Near East, but is absent from Africa. These haplogroup distributions have been interpreted as indicating a Near East origin for European B. taurus and the  independent domestication of cattle in Africa (Bradley et al. 1996, Troy et al. 2001, Hanotte et al. 2002).

In this note, we report on the analysis of an ancient mtDNA (control region) sequence as
obtained from a bovine skeletal sample from an early, first millennium, archaeological site near the community of Adi Nefas, Eritrea in Northeastern Africa (900 yr before the present; YBP; Schmidt and Curtis 2001) (Fig. 1). This newly acquired ancient DNA sequence is combined with data for the same mitochondrial control region as determined for 4 specimens from Mali, Northwestern Africa (ca. 900-2200 YBR; Edwards et al. 2004). In concert with the modern mtDNA data, these 5 ancient DNA sequences raise the  possibility that the mtDNA gene pool for Northern African cattle was more diverse ca. 900-2000 yr ago.

The original source of the ancient DNA from Eritrea consisted of a bone section (2 g) that was obtained from a larger piece of fragmented bone. Multiple DNA extractions, amplifications, cloning, and sequencing were performed according to established procedures for ancient DNA (Mulligan 2005). The DNA amplifications and sequencing
relied on the primer pair, AN1 (5′-ACGCGGCAT GGTAATTAAGC-3′) and AN2 (5′-GCCCCAT
GCATATAAGCAAG-3′), for an internal segment of the mitochondrial control region (see below).

Throughout this study, rigorous safeguards were routinely employed to ensure the authenticity of the final sequence, e.g., the DNA extractions and amplifications were conducted in a separate laboratory and building with positive air pressure and HEPA air filtration where no previous bovid material, either contemporary or ancient, had ever been
analyzed. In general, hot arid climates result in poorer organic preservation than colder climates (Edwards et al. 2004). Thus, the fact that this specimen was associated with a cool highland environment may have facilitated the successful DNA extraction.

The new ancient DNA sequence from Adi Nefas, Eritrea was 116 base pairs in length
(GenBank accession no.: AY524815), corresponding to positions 16,042-16,157 of the bovine mtDNA genome (Anderson et al. 1982). This mtDNA sequence is identical to a known control region haplotype for B. taurus (L27727; Loftus et al. 1994). Thus, as a representative of L27727, this ancient DNA sequence belongs to the combined haplogroup T/T3, which is common in modern cattle populations from Europe and the Near East, but rare in those from Northern Africa (Fig. 1). Furthermore, as characteristic of B. taurus, it corroborates the initial morphological identification Fig.

The previously reported ancient mtDNA sequences for the 4 Mali individuals consist of 1
T/T3 and 3 T1 haplotypes (Edwards et al. 2004). Combining the new Eritrean sequence with these 4 Mali orthologues resulted in an ancient mtDNA sample for Northern Africa of 2 T/T3 and 3 T1 haplotypes (Fig. 1). Assuming that these 5 represent a valid random sample (which admittedly is unlikely), a standard binomial test reveals that the probability  of drawing by chance 2 or more T/T3 sequences out of five, given the contemporary haplogroup frequencies for Northern African cattle (Fig. 1), is only 3.5%. Minimally, this result highlights the fact that this set of 5 ancient DNA sequences appears􀂨unusual􀂩, because of the greater frequency of the rare T/T3 haplogroups compared to modern populations of Northern African cattle.

In conclusion, our results raise the possibility that the mtDNA gene pool for Northern African cattle ca. 900-2000 yr ago was more polymorphic in terms of the frequencies of the T1 and T/T3 haplogroups that currently predominate in African and European populations, respectively. This older polymorphism in Northern African cattle may reflect a transition from an even more-diverse ancestral gene pool (as characteristic of its Near East progenitor) and/or the later secondary introduction of T/T3 haplotypes into this region by the immigration of European cattle (Hanotte et al. 2002, Bruford et al. 2003). Concomitantly, selective pressures from domestication and breeding efforts and/or genetic drift may have then led to the final homogenization of this older polymorphism into the current situation of essentially only the T1 haplogroup occurring in Northern Africa. These possibilities reemphasize the fact that both ancient and modern DNA data are of value in the ultimate resolution of the complex history of African cattle
(Edwards et al. 2004).

Early history of European domestic cattle as revealed by ancient DNA

We present an extensive ancient DNA analysis of mainly Neolithic cattle bones sampled from archaeological sites along the route of Neolithic expansion, from Turkey to North-Central Europe and Britain. We place this first reasonable population sample of Neolithic cattle mitochondrial DNA sequence diversity in context to illustrate the continuity of haplotype variation patterns from the first European domestic cattle to the present. Interestingly, the dominant Central European pattern, a starburst phylogeny around the modal sequence, T3, has a Neolithic origin, and the reduced diversity within this cluster in the ancient samples accords with their shorter history of post-domestic accumulation of mutation.

Genetics and Domestic Cattle Origins

Genetics has the potential to provide a novel layer of information pertaining to the origins and relationships of domestic cattle. While it is important not to overstate the power of archeological inference from genetic data, some previously widespread conjectures are inevitably contradicted with the addition of new information. Conjectures regarding domesticated cattle that fall into this category include a single domestication event with the  development of Bos indicus breeds from earlier Bos taurus domesticates; the domestication of a third type of cattle in Africa having an intermediate morphology between the two taxa; and the special status of the Jersey breed as a European type with some exotic influences. In reality, a wideranging survey of the genetic variation of modern cattle reveals that they all derive from either zebu or taurine progenitors or are hybrids of the two. The quantitative divergence between Bos indicus and Bos taurus strongly supports a predomestic separation; that between African and European taurines also suggests genetic input from native aurochsen populations on each continent. Patterns of genetic variants assayed from paternally, maternally, and biparentally inherited genetic systems reveal that extensive hybridization of the two subspecies is part of the ancestry of Northern Indian, peripheral European, and almost all African cattle breeds. In Africa, which is the most extensive hybrid zone, the sexual asymmetry of the process of zebu introgression into native taurine breeds is strikingly evident.

Figure 1. This map shows approximate distributions for the various types of domesticated cattle found in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Also shown are distributions for the closely related Bibos species, banteng and gaur. This diagram is modified from Payne6 and Epstein and Mason.5

Domesticated animals across the Sahara, North Africa and Nile.

There are claims that the Africans domesticated cattle first, which seems unlikely as the DNA from African cattle is pretty much restricted to sub Saharan Africa, with minority contribution in Northern Africa and a little in Portugal , whereas it would have been all over the place if it had been first. Interesting bits in bold. I’ve added this item because the appearance of the sheep and goats helps to trace the arrival of the Neolithic revolution into Africa.

Taken from ‘The antiquity of man’.

Extracts from:

Are the early Holocene cattle in the Eastern Sahara domestic or wild?
Fred Wendorf & Romuald Schild (Evolutionary Anthropology 3(4), 1994)

In the early Holocene, the Eastern Sahara had more rainfall, probably between 100 and 200 mm per year in its Egyptian area The rain probably fell during the summer. This inference is drawn from the fact that the plant remains in the early Holocene archeological sites are the same as those growing today several hundred kilometers to the south, on the northern margin of the Sahel and the adjacent Sahara, which are in a summer rain-fall regime. The quantity of rainfall was sufficient for seasonal pools or playas to form in large depressions. There may also have been permanent water about 250 km farther south at Sehima, and there certainly were permanent lakes near Merga in northern Sudan about 500 km south of the Egyptian border. Nevertheless, the Eastern Sahara was, at best, a marginal and highly unstable environment with frequent droughts and episodes of hyper-aridity. The Eastern Sahara in Egypt was not an environment that could have supported wild cattle nor one where the earliest domestication of cattle would have been like likely to occur. Cattle need to drink every day or at least every other day and there was no permanent water anywhere in the area.

Early Neolithic

Radiocarbon dates indicate that the early Holocene rains began sometime before 10,000 B.P., perhaps as early as 11,000 or 12,000 B.P. However, there is no evidence of human presence before 9,500 B.P. except for a radiocarbon date of around 10,000 years ago from a hearth west of Dakhla. The earliest sites with large bovid remains are imbedded in playa sediments that overlay several meters of still older Holocene playa deposits.

All of these sites contain well-made, bladelet-based lithic assemblages. Straight-backed pointed bladelets, perforators, and large endscrapers made on reused Middle Paleolithic artifacts are the characteristic tools. A few grinding stones and rare sherds of pottery also occur. The pottery is well made; the pieces are decorated over their entire exterior surfaces with deep impressions formed with a comb or wand in what is sometimes referred to as the Early Khartoum style.

These assemblages have been classified as the El Adam type of the Early Neolithic. Several radiocarbon dates place the complex between 9,500 and 8,900 B.P. There is no evidence that there were wells during this period. It is assumed, then, that these sites represent occupations that took place after the summer rains and before the driest time of the year when surface water was no anger available. Three of these sites, E-77-7, E-79-8, and E-80-4, all having only El Adam archeology and all located between km and 250 km west of Abu Simbel, have yielded, through excavation, more than 20 bones and teeth of large bovids that have been identified as Bos. These occurred along with several hundred bones of gazelle (Gazella dorcas and G. dama) and hare (Lepus capensis); a few bones of jackal (Canis aureus), turtle (Testudo sp.); and birds (Otis tarda and Anas querquedula); the large shell of a bivalve (Aspatharia rubens), probably of Nilotic origin; and various snail shells (Bulinus truncatus and Zoorecus insularis).

After a period of aridity around 8,800 years ago, when the desert may have been abandoned, the area was re-occupied by groups with a lithic tool-kit that emphasized elongated scalene triangles. The grinding stones, scrapers, and rare pieces of pottery that are present characterize the El Ghorab type of Early Neolithic and have been dated between 8,600 and 8,200 B.P. Oval slab-lined houses occur during this phase. all of them located in the lower pans of natural drainage basins. However, there are no known wells, suggesting that the desert still was not occupied during the driest part of the year. Faunal remains are poorly preserved in these sites and. indeed, only one bone of a large bovid was recovered from the four sites with fauna. in these sites the Dorcas gazelle is the most numerous, followed by hare, together with single bones of wild cat (Felis silvestris), porcupine (Hystrix cristata), desert hedge-hog (Paraechinus aethiopicus) an amphibian, and a bird.

Another brief period of aridity between 8.200 and 8,100 B.P. coincides with the end of the El Ghorab type of Early Neolithic in the desert. With the return of greater rainfall between about 8,0100 B.P., a new variety of Early Neolithic, the El Nabta type, appeared in the area. El Nabta. sites are often larger than the previous Early Neolithic sites and usually have several large, deep wells, some with adjacent shallow basins that might have been used to water stock. A variety of lithic and bone tools occur in these sites, including stemmed points with pointed and retouched bases, perforators, burins, scrapers. notched pieces, bone points, and scalene triangles measuring about one centimeter. Grinding stones and sherds of pottery are more numerous than in the earlier sites, but still are not abundant. Their deeply impressed designs are similar to those on objects recovered from sites of the El Adam and El Ghorab types of Early Neolithic. Occasional pieces have “dotted wavy line” decoration.

Radiocarbon dates place the El Nabta sites between 8,100 and 7,900 B.P. One of these, E-75-6, is much larger than the others and consists of a series of shallow, oval hut floors at–ranged in two, possibly three, parallel lines. Beside each house was one or more bell-shaped storage pits; nearby were several deep (2.5 m) and shallow (1.5 m) water-wells. This site, located near the bottom of a large basin, was flooded by the summer rains. The houses were repeatedly used, probably during harvests in fall and winter Several thousand remains of edible plants have been recovered from these house floors. They include seeds, fruits, and tubers representing 44 different kinds of plants, including sorghum and millets. All of the plants are morphologically wild, but chemical analysis by infrared spectroscopy of the lipids in the sorghum indicates that this plant may have been cultivated. Of the four El Nabta sites that have yielded fauna, two contained bones of a large bovid identified as Bos. The faunal samples from the other two sites are very small.

Middle Neolithic

Another brief period of aridity separated the El Nabta Early Neolithic from the succeeding Middle Neolithic, which is marked by the much greater abundance of pottery. In addition, each piece of pottery is decorated over its entire exterior surface with closely packed comb- or paddle-impressed designs. Some of the pots are large, and analysis of the clays indicates that they were made locally. There were also some changes in lithic tools. More of them were made of local rocks, but there was sufficient continuity in lithic typology to suggest that the preceding Nabta population was also involved.

Radiocarbon dates indicated an age for the Middle Neolithic between 7,700 and 6,500 B.P. The sites from the early part of this period range from one-or-two house homesteads in some of the smaller playas to multi-house villages in the larger basins. There is also one very large settlement along the beach line of the largest playa in the area, as well as, small camps on the sandsheets and the plateaus beyond the basins. This variation in site size has been interpreted as reflecting a seasonally responsive settlement system in which the population dispersed into small villages in the lower pans of the basins during most of the year, particularly the dry season, then, during the wet season, aggregated into a large community along the edge of the high-water stand of the largest playa.

Various house types are represented in the villages: some are circular and semi-subterranean (30 to 40 cm deep), some slab-lined, and others appear to have had walls of sticks and clay (wattle and daub). All of the sites have large, deep walk-in wells and storage pits. Except for the small camps, most of the sites appear to have been reused many times, with new house floors placed on top of the silt deposited during the preceding flood.

Excavations at five Middle Neolithic sites have yielded more than 50 bones from large bovids. Most of these bones came from the large “aggregation” site (E-75-8) at the margin of the largest playa in the area and from the early Middle Neolithic site E-77-l, dated before 7,000 B.P., which is located on a dune adjacent to another large playa. Each of the other three Middle Neolithic sites yielded only one to three large bovid bones.

Around 7,000 B.P., the remains of small livestock (sheep or goats) appear in several Middle Neolithic sites at Nabta. Because there are no progenitors for sheep or goats in Africa, these caprovines were almost certainly introduced from southwest Asia.

The faunal remains in many of these sites are extensive, including not only the same species recovered from the Early Neolithic sites, but also lizards (Lacertilia sp.) ground squirrel (Euxerus erythropus), field rat (Aricanthis nioloticus), hyena (Hyaena hyaena), and sand fox (Vulpes rueppelii). One bone is from either orstx (Oryx dammah) or addax (Addax nasosulcatus), The most nurmerous remains are those of hare and the Dorcas gazelle. Nevertheless, the paucity of the fauna and the absence, except for cattle and small livestock, of animals that require permanent water suggests a rather poor environment, most likely comparable to the northernmost Sahel today with about 200 mm of rain or less annually.

The Middle Neolithic was brought to an end by another major but brief period of aridity slightly before 6,500 B.P., when the water table fell several meters and the floors of many basins were deflated and reshaped, The area probably was abandoned at this time.

Late Neolithic

With the increase in rainfall that began around 6,500 years ago. human groups again appeared in the area, but this time with ceramic and lithic traditions that differed from those of the preceding Middle Neolithic. This new complex, identified as Late Neolithic, is distinguished by pottery that is polished and sometimes smudged on the interiors. This pottery resembles that found in the slightly later (about 5,400 or, possibly, 6,300 B.P.) Baderian sites in the Nile Valley of Upper Egypt. [12, 13] It seems likely that an as yet undiscovered early pre-Badarian Neolithic was present in that area and either stimulated or was the source of the Late Neolithic pottery in the Sahara. It is unlikely, however, that this hypothetical early Nilotic Neolithic will date much earlier than 6,500 B.P. There are terminal Paleolithic sites along the Nile that are dated to around 7,000 B.P. and it is highly improbable that two such different life-ways could co-exist exist for long in the closely constrained environment of the Nile Valley.

Late Neolithic sites in the Egyptian Sahara consist mostly of numerous hearths representing many separate episodes of occupation. The hearths are long and oval, dug slightly into the surface of the ground, and filled with charcoal and fire-cracked rocks. No houses are known. Most of the sites are dry-season camps located in the lower parts of basins that were flooded by the seasonal rains. Many of the sites are associated with several large, deep wells.

Many of the Late Neolithic tools are made on “side-blow flakes” that have been retouched into denticulates and notched pieces There are also a few bifacial arrowheads, often with tapering stems, or, rarely with concave bases similar to those found in the Fayum Neolithic where they date between 6,400 and 5,7OO years ago.The end of the Late Neolithic in the Eastern Sahara is not well established.The period may have tasted until around 5,300 B.P. when this part of the Sahara was abandoned.

Due to poor preservation faunal re-mains in Late Neolithic sites are not as abundant as those from the Middle Neolithic. However, the Late and Middle Neolithic samples generally include the same animals suggesting that the environment was also generally similar during these periods. Although large bovids are also present in three Late Nealithic sites, and more frequently than in the faunal assemblages of the preceding period, they still are a minor component of the sample.

The Late Neolithic Nabta is marked by interesting signs of increased social complexity, including several alignments of updght slabs (2 x 3 m) imbedded in, and sometimes almost covered by, the playa sediments. Circles of smaller uptight stabs may calendrical devices. Stone-covered tumuli are also present; two of the smaller ones contain cow burials, one in a prepared and sealed pit. none of the more than 30 large tumuli thus far located, which are by large, roughly shaped blocks of stone, has been excavated.

Even the earliest of these early Holocene Eastern Sahara sites have been attributed to cattle pastoralists. It is presumed that these Early Neolithic groups came into the desert from an as yet unidentified area where wild cattle were present and the initial steps toward their domestication been taken.

This area may have been the Nile Valley between the First and Second Cataracts, where wild cattle were present. Moreover, lithic industries were closely similar to those in the earliest Saharan sites. It has been suggested that cattle may have facilitated human use of the Sahara by providing a mobile, dependable, and renewable source of food in the font of milk and blood. The use of cattle as a renewable resource rather than for meat is seen as a possible explanation for the paucity of cattle remains in most of the Saharan sites. Such use in a desert, where other foods were so limited, may have initiated the modern East African pattern of cattle pastonlism in which cattle are important as a symbol of prestige, are primarily used for milk and blood, and rarely are killed for meat.

It is assumed, because of the apparrent absence of wells at the earliest sites, that the first pastoralists used the desert only after the summer rains, when water was still present in the larger drainage basins. After 8,000 years ago, when large, deep wells were dug, the pastoralists probably resided in the desert year-round.

Evidence from other parts of North Africa

The antiquity of the known domestic cattle elsewhere in North Africa does not offer much encouragement with regard to the presence of early domestic cattle in the Eastern Sahara. Gautier recently summarized the available data, noting that domestic cattle were present in coastal Mauritania and Mali around 4,200 years ago and at Capeletti in the mountains of northern Algeria about 6,500 years ago. At about that same time, they may have been present in the Coastal Neolithic of the Maghreb. Farther south in the Central Sahara, domestic cattle were present at Meniet and Erg d’Admco, both of which date around 5,400 years ago, and at Adrar Rous, where a complete skeleton of a domestic cow is dated 5,760 +/- 500 years B.P ].

Domestic cattle have been found in western Libya at Ti-n-torha North and Uan Muhuggiag, where the lowest level with domestic cattle and small livestock (sheep and goats) dated at 7,438 t 1,200 B.P. At Uan Muhuggiag, there is also a skull of a domestic cow dated 5,950 +/- 120 years. In northern Chad at Gabrong and in the Serir Tibesti, cattle and small livestock were certainly present by 6,000 B.P. and may have been there as early as 7,500 B.P. We are skeptical, however, about the presence of livestock at Uan Muhuggiag and the Serir Tibesti before 7,OO0 B.P., when small livestock first appear in the Eastern Sahara, if we must assume that these animals reached the central Sahara by way of Egypt and the Nile Valley. This also casts doubt on the 7,500 B.P. dates for cattle in these sites.

The earliest domestic cattle in the lower Nile Valley have been found at Merimda, in levels that have several radiocarbon dates ranging between 6,000 and 5,400 B.P. and in the Fayum Neolithic, which dates from 6,400 to 5, 400 B.P. These sites also have domes-tic pigs and either sheep or goats. In Upper Egypt, the earliest confirmed domestic cattle are in the Predynastic site of El Khattara, dated at 5,300 B.P. However, domestic cattle were almost certainly present in the earliest Badarian Neolithic, which dates before 5,400 B.P. and possibly were there as early as 6,300 B.P. Farther south, in Sudan near Khartoum, the first do-mestic cattle and small livestock oc-curred together in the Khartoum Neolithic, which began around 6,000 B.P.

It is probably significant that none of the early Holocene faunal assemblages in the Nile Valley from the Fayum south to Khartoum that date between 9,000 and 7,000 H.P contains the remains of cattle that have been identified as domestic It is this ab-sence of any evidence of recognizable incipient cattle domestication in the Nile Valley or elsewhere in North Africa that cautions us to consider carefully the evidence of early domestic cattle in the Eastern Sahara.

Other opinions

Numerous scholars, including Clutton-Brock, Robertshaw, Muzolini, and Smith, have debated about whether the large bovids are cattle or buffalo and stated that if they are cattle, they probably were wild.

It has also been suggested, because the large bovid bones are so rare, that the Bos were possibly intrusive and not associated with the dated occupations where they occurred That argument is not convincing The occupations at many of the sites with large bovids were limited to only one type of Early Neolithic. Moreover, the bovids were recovered from excavations at 15 Neo-lithic sites dating before 6,500 years ago and, in fact, were found at every site that yielded more than 41 speci-mens of identifiable faunal remains. Unfortunately, it is not possible to date these large bovid hones directly. Several attempts have been made and each was unsuccessful. Apparently. collagen is not preserved in bones found in hyper-arid environments. It should also be noted that the large bovid hones are not fossilized, and thus are not geological intrusions. Also, there are no large bovids living in the Eastern Sahara today nor have there been for several thousands of years.

It has been suggested that the faunal samples from the archeological sites do not reflect the range of animals that existed in that environment. However, Gautier has identified a long list of animals from these sites and, except for gazelles and hares, none is common. Beyond that, all are small and desert-adjusted. These faunal samples probably reflect the expected range of animals living in the desert at that time.

Smith made the most detailed criticism of Gautier’s hypothesis about domestic cattle, basing his objections on two major points. The first is environmental. He noted that Churcher identified wild cattle, African buffalo, hartebeests zebras, and gazelles from an “Early Neolithic” context at Dakhleh Oasis, 300 km north of Bir Kiseiba. If this is a true Early Neolithic faunal assemblage, however, the area would have required a much wetter environment than is indicated by the geological evidence. In fact, this Dakhleh assemblage in-cludes species that require much more moisture than do the species that were in the Nile Valley at this time. This suggests that the environment at Dakhleh was richer and more hospitable than that along the Nile, which is highly unlikely, to say the least. Also, Equus, even in the Late Paleolithic, seems to have been confined to the Red Sea Hills and the east bank of the Nile. [39] The Dakhleh fauna closely resembles that found with lacustrine deposits in the Eastern Sahara and dating to the Last Inter-glacial, while they are associated with Middle Paleolithic artifacts. It seems likely that this Dakhleh fauna was de-rived born deposits of the Middle Pa-leolithic and was somehow mixed with Neolithic artifacts. Churcher (personal communication) accepts this as a possible explanation.

Smith also noted that the Eastern Sahara faunal assemblages do not include the addax, which is still found today in the Central Sahara, or the onyx, giraffe, rhinoceros, or elephant he would expect to see in even the driest environments. There are, of course, two bones of either addax or onyx in the collections. Also, giraffes survived until recently in areas of the Gilf Kebir where there was water. There is, however, no evidence of giraffe on the plains of the Eastern Sahara after the lakes of the Last Interglacial became dry between 70,000 and 65,000 years ago. Occasional elephant teeth and a partial skull have been found in the Neolithic sites, but the elephant skull is more mineralized than are the bones of other fauna recovered from the same site. That skull, as well as the elephant teeth found in other sites, are regarded as Middle Paleolithic or earlier fossils collected by Neolithic people. In our view, the Eastern Sahara was simply too dry for these larger mam-mals, all of which, except the elephant, require nearby water. (The elephant is known to range consider-able distances away from water)

Smith’s other argument is osteological. He noted that Gautier was very cautious in his identifications, using circumstantial evidence to establish the identity of species. Smith observed that large bovid remains from the Eastern Sahara are within the size range of wild cattle in both Europe and North Africa, but that some are larger than known do-mestic cattle. He suggested that these large bovids could just as well be African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) or giant buffalo (Pelorovis antiquus). Both possibilities, however, can be rejected on osteometric and morphological grounds. The entire collection was carefully re-examined to resolve this particular question and the initial identification of the hones as those of Bus was confirmed.

It seems possible that we have not been adequately clear in our discus-sion of the sedimentary and other geological data that support the argument that there was no permanent water in this part of the Sahara. Perhaps, also, our critics’ personal experience in the Sahara has been limited to its more tropical and luxurious areas where permanent lakes existed in the Early Holocene. If so, this may have left them with a dis-torted view of the environment in the Eastern Sahara, where there are nu-merous deflated basins. In the center of many of these basins are extensive remnants of typical playa clays, which grade to silts and sands toward their margins. Diatomites, freshwater limestones, and other organogenic evidence of permanent water do not occur. There are no aquatic species of invertebrates and none of the fauna except large bovids requires permanent water. It is for these reasons that we reject the hypothesis that cattle were an integral part of the natural, wild fauna of the Eastern Sahara in the early Holocene. In this area under these conditions, cattle had to have been under human control, and thus at least incipiently domestic. The cattle had to have been moved from one grazing area and water hole to another and then, when the drainage basins became dry returned to a place with permanent water.

Wild cattle were numerous in the Nile Valley at this time. It might be hypothesized that after the summer rains the cattle ranged westward on their own to graze and the new grass then returned to the valley before the dry season. Although it is possible that this could have happened at Nabta, which is only 100 km from the Nile, it is extremely unlikely to have occurred at Bir Kiseiba, about 250 km west of the Nile. Also, this hypothesis makes little ecological sense. If large cattle went far out into the desert, why didn’t medium-size animals do the same? This is a particularly important question with regard to the hartebeest, which is also common in the Nile Valley and is better adapted to aridity than are cattle.

We have also considered the possibility that the cattle bones are remnants of food brought to the desert from the Nile Valley by groups of hunters. However, this is unlikely, for almost all of the bones recovered are lower limb elements, which have little or no meat and frequently are discarded at killing and butchery sites.


How can we accommodate the conflicting evidence regarding cattle pastoralists during the early Holocene in the Eastern Sahara? In particular, how can we propose that the first steps toward cattle domestication began in the Nile Valley, perhaps during the Late Pleistocene, when there is so little faunal evidence to support that hypothesis? The answer may lie in the identification of the cattle remains found in the Late Paleolithic sites in Sudanese and Egyptian Nubia. It has been suggested that it would be very difficult to separate the bones of the incipiently domestic cattle from those of wild cattle. When the first cattle were discovered in the Eastern Sahara, Gautier rechecked the Bos remains that had been found in all of the Late Paleolithic Nilotic sites. He gave particular attention to those from the Qadan site at Tushka, dated 14, 500 B.P., where cattle skulls were used as head markers for several human burials, and those from the Ark-inian site with a 14C date around 10,500 B.P. The Arkinian site was of special interest because the little lithic assemblage from there closely resembles the assemblages from the earliest El Nabta type Neolithic in the Eastern Sahara. Gautier found that the cattle in both the Qadan and Arkinian sites fell in two size groups one of which he considered to be males, the other females both groups were identified as being wild Bos primigenius.

Recently, however, work in a killing and butchery site near Esna, Egypt, dated 19,100 B.P., yielded the remains of six very large Bos, much larger than any other previously recovered in the Nile Valley. Indeed, these Bos are even larger than those from much older Middle Paleolithic sites. On the basis of this discovery, Gautier has suggested that Bos primigenius bulls in the Nile Valley may well have been much larger than was previously believed, and that the larger Bos from the Qadan and Arkinian sites were female wild Bos. If so, the smaller animals in those assemblages may have been these ones that were in an early stage of domestication. Morphologically, the Eastern Sahara cattle would then be well within the range of these incipiently domestic cattle. The additional work planned at the Esna butchery site may clarify this hypothesis.

By employing the method of “strong inferences,” which involves formulating alternative hypotheses, testing them to exclude one or more, arid adopting those that remain, we have concluded that domestic cattle probably were present in the Eastern Sahara as early as 9,000 years ago and, perhaps earlier. At the same time, we recognize that there is no such thing as proof and that science advances only by disproofs. Future evidence may suggest a better hypothesis or indeed, this controversy may be conclusively resolved if DNA testing now under way determines that the Bos remains found in African and Southwest Asian archeological sites belong to the same closely related gene pool or that they represent two populations that have been separated for many thousands of years. Until then, Gautier’s hypothesis of domestic cattle in the Eastern Sahara during the Early Holocene remains reasonable, if insecure

I have to say I disagree with them, on two grounds. DNA distribution of African cattle is pretty limited, and the main basis for their case four is that very big cattle bones have been found at another site. If cattle bones from the area generally showed that the wild cattle were big, but one group found near humans were small, I’d  buy it. This could easily be the remains of an extinct subspecies, or they were just selecting the biggest bulls they could find for some ritual purpose. And why were the cattle that came before smaller? the linguistic arguments (on original) were pretty thin too.

Case for the early domestication of African cattle… pretty thin, but not impossible. Maybe they could compare their DNA diversity to the other two kind to compare them!

The domestication of sheep,

An Anatolian wild sheep. Looks a lot like a goat.

Evidence of three maternal lineages in near eastern sheep supporting multiple domestication events

Archaeological data suggest two different areas with independent sheep domestication events in Turkey: the upper Euphrates valley in eastern Turkey, where the most important reference is the Nevali Cori settlement, considered the oldest domestication site in the Near East and Central Anatolia (particularly, the Catal höyük and Asikli höyük sites.

 Archaeological data from Early Neolithic human settlements distant from one another throughout the Near East support the occurrence of independent domestication events in this area. The first region of importance, with the oldest human settlements in the Near East (Nevali Cori and Çayönü Tepesi), is dated about 8500 BC and located in the upper Euphrates valley in eastern Turkey, near the northern arc of the so-called Fertile Crescent . The Zagros region of modern day Iran and Iraq is also recognized as a primary centre of sheep domestication . In central Anatolia, the Asikli Höyük and Çatalhöyük sites have also revealed morphologically domestic caprines . Finally, the Southern Levant region of southern Syria, western Jordan and Israel has also been suggested as a centre of sheep domestication. Actually, the first two regions, the upper Euphrates valley and Zagros were proposed by  as the origin of two out of the three goat lineages, presumably rising from independent domestications.

On the basis of all this, the multiple sheep maternal lineages revealed in our study suggest that the process of sheep domestication was more complex than previously thought. Estimated divergence time, long before domestication dating (around 8000 BC), suggests that at least three independent domestication events were involved in the origin of modern domestic sheep.

So it seems sheep were domesticated in multiple locations.