Friday, 10 February 2012

Archaeobotany of Near Eastern domestication: new special issue

The latest issue of Vegetation History and Archaeobotany (Feb. 2012) is a special issue on Near Eastern origins: From collecting to cultivation:transitions to a production economy in the Near East. Some of my own contributions to this discussion have been blogged previously. But as a whole issue there is a lot of important new data, and discussion herein. Although Current Anthropology has a recent volume on "origins of agriculture: new data, new ideas" I actually think there is a lot more new data, and ideas, in this specialist journal. Of course it is only about the Fertile Crescent, and we need more equivalent work on other world regions.

seeds & chaff from Iran and SE Turkey (Riehl et al)
As for what is in the issue, best to quote from the editorial by Willcox, Nessbit and Bittman: "The selected articles in the current issue throw new light on our understanding of how Homo sapiens became caught in the agriculture trap in the Near East. They are the outcome of the session entitled ‘Origins of agriculture in the Near East’ held at the 15th IWGP conference in Wilhelmshaven 2010. The subject is constantly being revised as new information and more refined analyses become available, so these papers provide a state of the art in 2010/2011. Each major discovery adds complexity to what has become a multi-faceted puzzle with data being drawn from disciplines as wide apart as archaeology and genetics, plant biology and palaeo-climatology. In this issue papers concentrate on results obtained from charred plant remains and their interpretation.".... " with hindsight simple hypotheses are no longer plausible given the archaeological and environmental diversity within the Fertile Crescent. This complex diversity is exemplified by the vast geographical area where transition sites are located, which spans different climate and vegetation zones. Thus, sites in the north of the Fertile Crescent are 1,000 km from those in the south and likewise in the east–west direction. Archaeological diversity is exemplified by the extended chronological range of transition sites. We can trace the use of wild cereals back to about 23,000 years ago when habitations consisted of simple brush huts to villages with sophisticated architecture associated with the earliest domesticated cereals 12,500 years later."

On a personal note, this issue marks a major foray into thinking about the dynamics of domestication is what remains the best archaeobotanically studied region of agricultural origins, but even here we still have a quite patchy dataset to work with.

Here's the contents list.

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