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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Mar 2;101(9):2692-5. Epub 2004 Feb 19.

Impetus for sowing and the beginning of agriculture: ground collecting of wild cereals.

Author information

1
Faculty of Life Sciences and Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies, Bar-Ilan University, 52900 Ramat-Gan, Israel. kislev@maail.biu.ac.il

Abstract

The Agricultural Revolution in Western Asia, which took place some 11,000 years ago, was a turning point in human history [Childe, V. G. (1952) New Light on the Most Ancient East (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London)]. In investigating the cultural processes that could have led from gathering to intentional cultivation, various authors have discussed and tested wild cereal harvesting techniques. Some argue that Near Eastern foragers gathered grains by means of sickle harvesting, uprooting, plucking (hand stripping), or beating into baskets [Hillman, G. C. & Davies, M. S. (1999) in Prehistory of Agriculture: New Experimental and Ethnographic Approaches, ed. Anderson, P. (The Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles), pp. 70-102]. During systematic experiments, we found that archaeobotanical data from regional Neolithic sites support ground collection of grains by early hunter-gatherers. Ground collecting suits the natural shattering of wild species that ripen and drop grains at the beginning of summer. We show that continual collection off the ground from May to October would have provided surplus grains for deliberate sowing in more desirable fields, and facilitate the transition to intentional cultivation. Because ground gathering enabled collectors to observe that fallen seeds are responsible for the growth of new plants in late fall, they became aware of the profitability of sowing their surplus seeds for next year's food. Ground collecting of wild barley and wild wheat may comprise the missing link between seed collecting by hunter-gatherers and cereal harvesting by early farmers.

PMID:
14976246
PMCID:
PMC373256
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.0308739101
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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