Thursday 22 July 2010

Emmer wheat synthesis of genetics & archaeology

Both genetics and archaeobotany provide vantage points of reconstructing the early history of crops, where and how they originates, and how they spread. There has been a growing recognition in both fields that some of our previous conclusions were false truths, based on simplistic assumptions. There has been a small, but growing trend, for some true interdisciplinary synthesis, of archaeobotanists teaming up with geneticists to write the history of crops, and a new example comes from the journal Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, "Geographic distribution and domestication in wild emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccoides)" in which archaeobotanist George Willcox teams up with geneticists (including Ozkan, Salamini and Kilian) to provide an updated compilation of what is know about Emmer and what it might mean for multiple starts of cultivation, gradual domestication, but the possible predominance of one domesticated line at the end of the process. It generally points towards a much more complex picture genetically and biogeographically, and it recognizes the incompleteness of sampled datasets, including the range of modern emmer landraces and wild populations as representatives of what would have been there in the past. This paper hasn't solved all the mysteries of the origins of agriculture in the Near East, nor of emmer, but it represents serious progress through a conversation between archaeology and genetics, rather than just talking past each other.

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