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J Exp Bot. 2013 Feb;64(4):815-22. doi: 10.1093/jxb/ers373.

On the 'lost' crops of the neolithic Near East.

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The Levi Eshkol School of Agriculture, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


The claim that the 'classic' eight 'founder crop' package (einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, barley, lentil, pea, chickpea, bitter vetch, and flax) underlying the emergence of agriculture in the Near East is a relic of a larger number of domesticated species is addressed. The 'lost' crops concept relies on the idea that additional taxa were at certain points in time and in certain locations genuine crops, which were later abandoned. The issue is highly relevant to the debate concerning mono- versus polyphyletic domestication, because if there were numerous 'false starts' that were subsequently lost, this implies that plant domestication occurred over a protracted time period, and across a wide geographic range. Different criteria were used for declaring those taxa as 'lost' crops, including, but not limited to (i) identification in archaeobotanical assemblages of grains from species which are not known as crops at present; (ii) identification of such grains in what is interpreted to have been Neolithic storage facilities; and (iii) recent botanical observations on populations of crop wild relatives in disturbed habitats. The evidence for four presumed 'lost' crops (wild oat, rambling vetch, rye, and wild black lentil) and the broad bean is evaluated, and discussed in light of data on Croatian and Israeli wild pea, and Moroccan wild lentil in disturbed habitats. Based on present knowledge, the broad bean might emerge as a founder crop (without an identified wild progenitor). The same may hold true for rye, which was never lost since its adoption in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period in Anatolia. In the remaining three cases, there are alternative, more likely, explanations for the archaeological finds or the recent botanical observations rather than 'lost' domestication episodes.

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