Critical role of climate change in plant selection and millet domestication in North China.
ABSTRACT: While North China is one of the earliest independent centers for cereal domestication in the world, the earliest stages of the long process of agricultural origins remain unclear. While only millets were eventually domesticated in early sedentary societies there, recent archaeobotanical evidence reported here indicates that grasses from the Paniceae (including millets) and Triticeae tribes were exploited together by foraging groups from the Last Glacial Maximum to the mid-Holocene. Here we explore how and why millets were selected for domestication while Triticeae were abandoned. We document the different exploitation and cultivation trajectories of the two tribes employing ancient starch data derived from nine archaeological sites dating from 25,000 to 5500?cal BP (LGM through mid-Holocene) in North China. With this diachronic overview, we can place the trajectories into the context of paleoclimatic reconstructions for this period. Entering the Holocene, climatic changes increased the yield stability, abundance, and availability of the wild progenitors of millets, with growing conditions increasingly favoring millets while becoming more unfavorable for grasses of the Triticeae tribe. We thus hypothesize that climate change played a critical role in the selection of millet species for domestication in North China, with early domestication evidenced by 8700?cal BP.
Project description:In China, pottery containers first appeared about 20000 cal. BP, and became diverse in form during the Early Neolithic (9000-7000 cal. BP), signaling the emergence of functionally specialized vessels. China is also well-known for its early development of alcohol production. However, few studies have focused on the connections between the two technologies. Based on the analysis of residues (starch, phytolith, and fungus) adhering to pottery from two Early Neolithic sites in north China, here we demonstrate that three material changes occurring in the Early Neolithic signal innovation of specialized alcoholic making known in north China: (i) the spread of cereal domestication (millet and rice), (ii) the emergence of dedicated pottery types, particularly globular jars as liquid storage vessels, and (iii) the development of cereal-based alcohol production with at least two fermentation methods: the use of cereal malts and the use of moldy grain and herbs (qu and caoqu) as starters. The latter method was arguably a unique invention initiated in China, and our findings account for the earliest known examples of this technique. The major ingredients include broomcorn millet, Triticeae grasses, Job's tears, rice, beans, snake gourd root, ginger, possible yam and lily, and other plants, some probably with medicinal properties (e.g., ginger). Alcoholic beverages made with these methods were named li, jiu, and chang in ancient texts, first recorded in the Shang oracle-bone inscriptions (ca. 3200 cal. BP); our findings have revealed a much deeper history of these diverse fermentation technologies in China.
Project description:It is generally understood that foxtail millet and broomcorn millet were initially domesticated in Northern China where they eventually became the dominant plant food crops. The rarity of older archaeological sites and archaeobotanical work in the region, however, renders both the origins of these plants and their processes of domestication poorly understood. Here we present ancient starch grain assemblages recovered from cultural deposits, including carbonized residues adhering to an early pottery sherd as well as grinding stone tools excavated from the sites of Nanzhuangtou (11.5-11.0 cal kyBP) and Donghulin (11.0-9.5 cal kyBP) in the North China Plain. Our data extend the record of millet use in China by nearly 1,000 y, and the record of foxtail millet in the region by at least two millennia. The patterning of starch residues within the samples allow for the formulation of the hypothesis that foxtail millets were cultivated for an extended period of two millennia, during which this crop plant appears to have been undergoing domestication. Future research in the region will help clarify the processes in place.
Project description:The present study investigates the occurrence of wild grasses at Epipalaeolithic and aceramic Neolithic sites in the Near East in order to assess their role in subsistence economies alongside the emergence of cereal cultivation. We use Chogha Golan in the foothills of the central Zagros Mountains (ca. 11.7-9.6 ka cal. BP) as a case study, where the archaeobotanical data suggest the frequent exploitation of a complex of wild grasses for almost 2,000 years. Domesticated emmer replaced these wild grasses as the major food resources towards the end of occupation at the site (ca. 9.8 ka cal. BP). We discuss possible implications of this development and conclude that the traditional concept of pre-domestication cultivation seems unsuited for explaining the patterns from Chogha Golan. These data are in good accordance with the overall picture in the Zagros Mountains, where wild grasses were routinely gathered throughout the early Holocene. In contrast, wild grasses were gradually replaced by wild cereals in the Levantine corridor since the end of the Pleistocene. However, several sites located in this region provide evidence for a continuous exploitation of wild grasses alongside emerging cereal cultivation and most of these taxa were part of the earliest segetal floras that evolved with the appearance of domestic cereals throughout the 11th millennium cal. BP. Some sites contemporary to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B still provide evidence for the usage of wild grasses, which possibly reflects the utilization of edible arable weeds and continuous gathering of wild grasses by more mobile groups.
Project description:An assemblage of charred plant remains collected from 26 sites in the Yiluo valley of North China as part of an archaeological survey spans the period from the sixth millennium to 1300 calibrated calendrical years (cal) B.C. The plant remains document a long sequence of crops, weeds, and other plants in the country. The results also demonstrate the effectiveness of sediment sampling as part of an archaeological survey. Ten accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) radiocarbon dates on crop remains inform an assessment of the sequence of agricultural development in the region. Foxtail millet (Setaria italica subsp. italica) was grown during the Early Neolithic period and was the principal crop for at least four millennia. Broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) was significantly less important throughout the sequence. Rice (Oryza sativa) was introduced by 3000 cal B.C. but apparently was not an important local crop. Wheat became a significant crop between 1600 and 1300 cal B.C. The weed flora diversified through time and were dominated by annual grasses, some of which were probably fodder for domesticated animals. The North China farming tradition that emphasized dry crops (millets, wheat, and legumes) with some rice appears to have been established at the latest by the Early Shang (Erligang; 1600-1300 B.C.) period.
Project description:Three grinding stones from Shizitan Locality 14 (ca. 23,000-19,500 calendar years before present) in the middle Yellow River region were subjected to usewear and residue analyses to investigate human adaptation during the last glacial maximum (LGM) period, when resources were generally scarce and plant foods may have become increasingly important in the human diet. The results show that these tools were used to process various plants, including Triticeae and Paniceae grasses, Vigna beans, Dioscorea opposita yam, and Trichosanthes kirilowii snakegourd roots. Tubers were important food resources for Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, and Paniceae grasses were exploited about 12,000 y before their domestication. The long tradition of intensive exploitation of certain types of flora helped Paleolithic people understand the properties of these plants, including their medicinal uses, and eventually led to the plants' domestication. This study sheds light on the deep history of the broad spectrum subsistence strategy characteristic of late Pleistocene north China before the origins of agriculture in this region.
Project description:Grasses have varying inflorescence shapes; however, little is known about the genetic mechanisms specifying such shapes among tribes. Here, we identify the grass-specific TCP transcription factor COMPOSITUM 1 (COM1) expressing in inflorescence meristematic boundaries of different grasses. COM1 specifies branch-inhibition in barley (Triticeae) versus branch-formation in non-Triticeae grasses. Analyses of cell size, cell walls and transcripts reveal barley COM1 regulates cell growth, thereby affecting cell wall properties and signaling specifically in meristematic boundaries to establish identity of adjacent meristems. COM1 acts upstream of the boundary gene Liguleless1 and confers meristem identity partially independent of the COM2 pathway. Furthermore, COM1 is subject to purifying natural selection, thereby contributing to specification of the spike inflorescence shape. This meristem identity pathway has conceptual implications for both inflorescence evolution and molecular breeding in Triticeae.
Project description:Research in to the nature of Neolithic agriculture in China is often focused on topics such as the domestication and spread of cereal crops and the reconstruction of human and animal diets in the past. Field management practices, such as organic manuring, have not been systematically investigated in Chinese archaeology. Here we present an isotopic dataset for archaeological foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and common millet (Panicum miliaceum) grains as well as associated faunal remains (both domesticated and wild) from seven sites in the Baishui Valley of north China, in order to find direct evidence of organic manuring during the Late Neolithic period. The elevated nitrogen isotope values of the millet grains (5500-3500?cal BP) in comparison with the estimated local vegetation indicates that millets were organically manured by animal dung, mostly likely originating from domestic pigs. Considering the low nitrogen contents of loess soils and their unsuitability for intensive cultivation, this organic manuring by animal dung would have played a key role in maintaining soil productivity and crop yield, which was necessary to support the demands of agriculture and cultural expansion during the Late Neolithic on the Loess Plateau of China.
Project description:Evidence for ancestral gene transfer between Epichloë fungal endophyte ancestors and their host grass species is described. From genomes of cool-season grasses (the Poeae tribe), two Epichloë-originated genes were identified through DNA sequence similarity analysis. The two genes showed 96% and 85% DNA sequence identities between the corresponding Epichloë genes. One of the genes was specific to the Loliinae sub-tribe. The other gene was more widely conserved in the Poeae and Triticeae tribes, including wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and barley (Hordeum vulgare L.). The genes were independently transferred during the last 39 million years. The transferred genes were expressed in plant tissues, presumably retaining molecular functions. Multiple gene transfer events between the specific plant and fungal lineages are unique. A range of cereal crops is included in the Poeae and Triticeae tribes, and the Loliinae sub-tribe is consisted of economically important pasture and forage crops. Identification and characterisation of the 'natural' adaptation transgenes in the genomes of cereals, and pasture and forage grasses, that worldwide underpin the production of major foods, such as bread, meat, and milk, may change the 'unnatural' perception status of transgenic and gene-edited plants.
Project description:Stable isotope biochemistry (delta(13)C and delta(15)N) and radiocarbon dating of ancient human and animal bone document 2 distinct phases of plant and animal domestication at the Dadiwan site in northwest China. The first was brief and nonintensive: at various times between 7900 and 7200 calendar years before present (calBP) people harvested and stored enough broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) to provision themselves and their hunting dogs (Canis sp.) throughout the year. The second, much more intensive phase was in place by 5900 calBP: during this time both broomcorn and foxtail (Setaria viridis spp. italica) millets were cultivated and made significant contributions to the diets of people, dogs, and pigs (Sus sp.). The systems represented in both phases developed elsewhere: the earlier, low-intensity domestic relationship emerged with hunter-gatherers in the arid north, while the more intensive, later one evolved further east and arrived at Dadiwan with the Yangshao Neolithic. The stable isotope methodology used here is probably the best means of detecting the symbiotic human-plant-animal linkages that develop during the very earliest phases of domestication and is thus applicable to the areas where these connections first emerged and are critical to explaining how and why agriculture began in East Asia.
Project description:Validating model simulations of vegetation-climate feedback needs information not only on changes in past vegetation types as reconstructed by palynologists, but also on other proxies such as vegetation cover. We present here a quantitative regional vegetation cover reconstruction for North China during the Holocene. The reconstruction was based on 15 high-quality lake sediment profiles selected from 55 published sites in North China, along with their modern remote sensing vegetation index. We used the surface soil pollen percentage to build three pollen-vegetation cover transfer models, and used lake surface sediment pollen data to validate their accuracy. Our results showed that vegetation cover in North China increased slightly before its maximum at 6.5 cal ka BP and has since declined significantly. The vegetation decline since 6.5 cal ka BP has likely induced a regional albedo change and aerosol increase. Further comparison with paleoclimate and paleovegetation dynamics in South China reproduced the regional cooling effect of vegetation cover decline in North China modelled in previous work. Our discussion demonstrates that, instead of reconstructing vegetation type from a single site, reconstructing quantitative regional vegetation cover could offer a broader understanding of regional vegetation-climate feedback.