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Holocene. 2016 Oct;26(10):1541-1555. Epub 2016 Jun 1.

Between China and South Asia: A Middle Asian corridor of crop dispersal and agricultural innovation in the Bronze Age.

Author information

1
Institute of Archaeology, University College London, UK.

Abstract

The period from the late third millennium BC to the start of the first millennium AD witnesses the first steps towards food globalization in which a significant number of important crops and animals, independently domesticated within China, India, Africa and West Asia, traversed Central Asia greatly increasing Eurasian agricultural diversity. This paper utilizes an archaeobotanical database (AsCAD), to explore evidence for these crop translocations along southern and northern routes of interaction between east and west. To begin, crop translocations from the Near East across India and Central Asia are examined for wheat (Triticum aestivum) and barley (Hordeum vulgare) from the eighth to the second millennia BC when they reach China. The case of pulses and flax (Linum usitatissimum) that only complete this journey in Han times (206 BC-AD 220), often never fully adopted, is also addressed. The discussion then turns to the Chinese millets, Panicum miliaceum and Setaria italica, peaches (Amygdalus persica) and apricots (Armeniaca vulgaris), tracing their movement from the fifth millennium to the second millennium BC when the Panicum miliaceum reaches Europe and Setaria italica Northern India, with peaches and apricots present in Kashmir and Swat. Finally, the translocation of japonica rice from China to India that gave rise to indica rice is considered, possibly dating to the second millennium BC. The routes these crops travelled include those to the north via the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor, across Middle Asia, where there is good evidence for wheat, barley and the Chinese millets. The case for japonica rice, apricots and peaches is less clear, and the northern route is contrasted with that through northeast India, Tibet and west China. Not all these journeys were synchronous, and this paper highlights the selective long-distance transport of crops as an alternative to demic-diffusion of farmers with a defined crop package.

KEYWORDS:

Central Asia; China; South Asia; agriculture; archaeobotany; archaeology; millets; wheat

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