Emmer wheat cultivated 9,800 years ago

by Laurie Gorton
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TÜBINGEN, GERMANY — Discovery of charred emmer wheat seeds among artifacts at an architectural dig in eastern end of the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent indicates man started farming earlier and at more places than previously thought.

Three German researchers reported their findings from the Neolithic tell at Chogha Golan in the foothills of Iran’s Zagros Mountains in the July 5 issue of Science. To date, most research looked at the western end of the region, now a part of northern Syria.

“Around 9,800 calendar years before the present, domesticated-type emmer appears,” the archeobotanists wrote. The site itself was dated from approximately 11,300 years ago and showed evidence that residents also cultivated wild barley, lentils and peas.

Archeologists suspected they might be on to something when their dig found an increase in the number of mortars and grinding tools, things used to process plant materials for consumption. These artifacts indicated a permanent settlement rather than the nomadic camps typical of hunter-gather societies.

“The role of Iran as a center of origin for domesticated cereals has long been debated,” said Simone Riehl, Mohsen Zeidi and Nicholas Conard of University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany, in their report. They found a sequence of cultivation of wild plants ranging over 2,200 years along with the first appearance of domesticated species.

George Willcox, a researcher with France’s CNRS who specializes in Near Eastern archeobotany, commented in the same issue of Science on the new findings, noting, “The origins of agriculture have been the source of much speculation, but recent discoveries are enabling archaeologists to piece together a more accurate picture.”

Since the discovery 50 years ago of an 11,000-year-old farming village in Jericho, archeologists found a series of similar sites dated hundreds of years earlier. These locations form an arc extending into northern Iraq. The news from the Iranian tell provided evidence that wild cereal cultivation took place over wider areas than previously thought.

Science is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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