Origins of Agriculture: an ecological perspective on crop domestication

Key points:

  • Creates a unified database of archaeobotanical remains for early Neolithic sites in Western Asia, which is one of the main geographic focus for crop domestication;
  • Establishes the suite of ecological traits involved in selection for large seed size in wild progenitors, a key aspect of domestication.

This project, in collaboration with the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences (University of Sheffield), aims to seeddevelop a new ecological model for crop domestication, integrating the roles of environmental change, plant traits, and human agency, under the constraints of the archaeological record. At the core of the project is the creation of an archaeobotanical database, which systematically documents the species identity, abundance and size of recovered plant remains from pre-agricultural sites in the Fertile Crescent. The database will be made available via the Arts and Humanities Data Service at the end of the project.

plantsRunning parallel to the archaeobotanical work, researchers in the Department of Animal Plant Sciences are engaged in experiments to characterise the suite of ecological traits associated with seed size in crop progenitors and other, never domesticated, wild species. These experiments will involve manipulation of sub-ambient CO2 levels, soil fertility, shoot defoliation, and germination conditions. The ecological traits of food plants will be related to spatial and temporal archaeobotanical distributions in order to improve our understanding of why the spectrum of plants utilised by humans narrowed following the emergence of agriculture.

Funded by: NERCnerc-logo
Grant period: 2010 – 2013
Grant Holders: Dr C. Osborne (Sheffield, Animal and Plant Sciences), Dr M. Charles (Sheffield, Archaeology), and Prof. G. Jones (Sheffield, Archaeology).
Researchers: C. Preece (Sheffield, Animal and Plant Sciences) and M. Wallace (Sheffield, Archaeology).

Relevant publications