Saturday 20 July 2019

Panicum domestication and early sedentism in Northeast China

For the past decade the Xinglongwa culture of eastern Inner Mongolia (Liao River valley) has been regarded as a likely cultural context for the domestication of common millet (Panicum miliaceum), on the basis of significant quantities of Panicum grains associated with some of the many houses excavated at the site of Xinglonggou (see, e.g. Zhao 2011). Recently, new excavations by a Chinese-Israeli collaborative team (with some London archaeobotanists) explored parts of two new small settlement sites of this period, Jiajiagou (5950-5700 BC) and Tachiyingzi (5550-5450 BC), including intensive flotation, have been published this week in PLOSone. At both sites a single dwelling was excavated and sampled, and the archaeobotanical data indicate a predominance of wild plant foods, including walnuts, apricot endocarps, hawthorns, Phellodendron, but Panicum miliaceum is also present is small quantities-- 16 in total at both sites, with more and higher ubiquity at the later site. Most of these Panicum grains are more elongate then plump, with size and L/W ratios that correspond better to Panicum miliaeceum subsp. ruderale, known today as a weedy species but probably descended from, or at least comparable to the origins wild progenitors. We take this to suggest that grain size/shape was still under going evolution over the course of the 6th millennium BC, and thus it may not have been finished evolving into its domesticated form. This fits the now recurrent pattern of protracted domestication processes in cereals (explored previously when "de-centering the fertile crescent", and demonstrated more statistically in Allaby et al "Geographic mosaics and changing rates of cereal domestication").

These data, along with those from Xinglonggou indicate that while Neolithic sedentism had been established in Northeast China by the early 6th Millennium BC, the evolution of domesticated Panicum miliaceum and the establishment of agricultural economies still took rather longer. Another conclusion of the paper is that sedentism and this domestication process took place during stable and quite conducive climatic conditions. This argues against the hypothesis that domestication in this case was driven by climatic stress, or that it should be linked to major climatic fluctuations that characterize the start of the Holocene (a hypothesis promoted by Bar-Yosef 2011, amongst others)

It is worth noting that the later site (Tachiyingzi) also has the presence of a few Setaria italica and S. viridis, and a couple more plump grains (pictured above). While none of these grains was directly dated there is some possibility that more fully domesticated grains will prove to be intrusive. Amongst the direct AMS dates, on wild foods, four proved to be 6th Millennium BC, but one date on fragments from lotus seeds turned out to be intrusive and late Bronze Age. This highlights the need for more direct dating of crop remains, a point highlighted by recent debates over the arrival of wheat in Late Longshan China, for which numerous false alarms have been dismissed via direct radiocarbon dating (see "Assessing the occurrence and status of wheat in late Neolithic central China: the importance of direct AMS radiocarbon dates from Xiazhai").      

So the case for a millet domestication in Northeast China in strengthened. This does not rule out other dometciation centres-- which there must have been for Setaria italica at least, and perhaps Panicum milieceum. Domestication can be regarded as taking place alongside and after the emergence of sedentism, but further data are needed to better document this, and to assess the extent to which initial cultivation  of wild millet was linked to the shift to sedentism or not. 

Saturday 13 July 2019

In Memoriam, 'Leo' Aoi Hosoya (1967-2019)

photo by Dorian Fuller
It is with sadness that I report the passing of an archaeobotanical colleague and friend, Leo Aoi Hosoya, who passed on 10 July 2019. Our condolences go first to her family, her husband and daughter. Many archaeobotanists at the IWGP held in Lecce in June 2019 will recall her paper presented in absentia, that began with an amusing video message from Leo. Sadly her health did not improve. "Leo" was actually her adopted English name, based on her zodiac sign, as she had thought that her Japanese name, Aoi, might be difficult to manage for the English. So as Leo she became known to many of us and she played a role in international research not just through her own work (on archaeobotany in Japan and China) but through her place in international networks and networking, facilitated by good humour, friendliness and lack of negativity; she was always contagiously optimistic.

IWGP 1995, Innsbruck: left to right:
Gardar Gu├░mundsson, Mary Anne Murray,
Lydia Zapata, Leonor Pena-Chocarro,
Ann Butler and Leo Hosoya
 [Photo courtesy M.A. Murray]

Aoi was born 14 August 1967. Her global journey could be said to have begun with her post-graduate degrees at Cambridge (from 1992), including her MPhil and PhD. I met her when I started my Master's there in 1995 and we were lab-mates once I started my PhD in 1996. Together with Marco Madella and Victor Paz we formed a group of young researchers interested in various parts of Asia, concerned with rice, millets, etc. and how research approaches that were well-established in Europe, such as analysis of arable weed floras and crop-processing could be translated into new approaches to understanding the Asian past. Leo's work towards her PhD, focused on the Yayoi period in Japan, was very much pioneering, addressing the patterns of crop processing in rice and millets for the first time. She was among the very first archaeobotanist to pull rice spikelet bases out of flotation samples, which we later realized would be essential for studying rice domestication. But her knowledge of Japanese ethnohistorical and archaeobotanical sources also opened my mind to the rich traditions of use and processing of acorns, which very much went on to influence my thinking about nut use in the Neolithic. Her Phd was completed in 2002, but published in a revised monograph-like article in Senri Ethnologica in 2009 [PDF], its title's phrase"Sacred Commonness" reflects her strong interest in relating the mundane of crop processing and agriculture to greater symbolic and social patterns that run through past societies. Her interest in theorizing the social while working through empirical science remains inspiring. Her time as a PhD student in Cambridge brought her to her first International Work Groups for Palaeoethnobotany in 1995 and 1998. (See also the in memoriam of Prof. Martin Jones here).
Leo Hosoya, Dorian Fuller, field trip
during the IWGP 1998, Toulouse, France

For several years, Leo was a post-doctoral research associate at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (Chikyukan) in Kyoto. There she was part of the team of a project "Agriculture and Environment Interactions in Eurasia- A 10,000 year history" directed by Prof. Yo-Ichiro Sato, where I was lucky enough to be an invited researcher in 2007 and 2009. She was also part Junzo Uchiyama's Project "NEOMAP", which was looking comparatively on the Neolithic traditions throughout northeastern Asia. Those were optimistic times for international collaborations, new empirical archaeobotanical research and integration across various datasets. For me, Leo was ever a guide to parts of Japan and Japanese archaeology, that I would have otherwise missed. From visits to sites in Hokkaido or Aomori (such as Komakino, below left, or Kiusu, shown at the top), to a memorable trip over the mountains from Kyoto to visit the Torihama shell midden museum to chase down measurable bottlegourds (in 2009; sadly I could find no photos of anything but gourds and woodend tools from that trip- although it resulted in one joint publication on East Asian gourds). It was also a time of many food-centered parties held at the guest house of RIHN.
Leo Hosoya at back left. 

It was at this time that both Leo and I came independently to collaborations with the Zhejiang Institute on the archaeobotany of Tianluoshan, an exciting Neolithic discovery in the Lower Yangtze region made in 2004. Over the years of 2006 and 2007 we made a few tips each to the site to work on sieving and sorting soil samples for plant remains to document the extensive wild food use at the site and the many rice spikelet bases, which lead to recognition of an assemblage in which rice was still undergoing evolution of domestication (another joint publication in Science). This work built on Leo's early efforts both of pulling rice spikelet bases from flotation samples that started in her PhD and of understanding acorn use, which she usefully summarized in this 2011 article.
from Left: Xugao Chen, Ying Zhang, Yunfei Zheng, Dorian Fuller
Ling Qin, Leo Aoi Hosoya, Guoping Sun

While in Kyoto, Leo took a lead roll in organizing some targeted archaeobotanical meetings, bringing together archaeobotanists, geneticists and ethnographic perspectives, first on rice (held in Kyoto in 2009), and later on millets held in Tokyo in 2012. Both lead to special journal issues edited by Leo, on rice, and millets. Subsequent meetings on rice that were held in Beijing and London very much grew out of that first Kyoto meeting. In 2009 she also came to London on a British Academy Darwin researcher's award, and conducted some preliminary work on the processing and detoxification of peach and apricot seeds, plausibly used as nuts or famine foods in Neolithic China (article pdf here).

In subsequent years she became involved in ethnoarchaeological work on rice storage in Bali (2016), which contributed to her ongoing wholistic approach to understanding rice, not just as an agricultural product but as part of social and culinary reorientation of society, as part of what she referred as the "routine-scape" (2014).  Most recently she has been one of the sub-project leaders of a major Japanese-lead international project on "Integrated Studies on Rice-based civilization" for which she has taken a multi-proxy approach to understanding of cooking pots have been used and how this changes over the course of the intensification of rice use in the Lower Yangtze Neolithic an the Yayoi in Japan. She presents some of this work in a chapter published in honour of Martin Jones' retirement, and at the symposium held in Cambridge in Nov. 2018; her chapter "Rice and the Formation of Complex Society in East Asia: Reconstruction of Cooking Through Pot Soot- and Carbon-deposit Pattern Analysis" can be downloaded as part of the book Far from the Hearth (2019). Her in absentia presentation for 2019 IWGP was on the same project, and its holistic approach to an archaeology of cooking is an inspiration for the rest of us to keep working and to enjoy a good meal and a shojiu in Leo's memory.
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Rice archaeology symposium, Kyoto, 2009

Leo Hosoya chairing presentations at Rice Symposium

Leo Hosoya (centre) during discussions on the Rice symposium, Kyoto 2009. Prof. Sato (speaking)

Early rice symposium, Peking University, May 2011. Leo Hosoya in front row (second from right)

Early  Rice symposium dinner, from Left: Alison Weisskopf, Heejin Lee, Yuchao Jiang, Michele Wollstonecroft, LEO HOSOYA, Peter Bellwood, Mrs. Bellwood, Mukund Kajale 

The exCambridge Contingent at the International Millets symposium, Tokyo Museum, 2012.
From Left: Victor Paz, Marco Madella, Leo Hosoya, Dorian Fuller, Martin Jones, Xinyi Liu

More photos from the Tokyo meeting (courtesy of Tania Valamoti)

June 2008: Junzo Uchiyama, Leo Hosoya, Oki Makamura (of NEOMAP project)
Pitt-Rivers lab Christmas lunch (1998?), from L: Lila Janik, ?, Martin Jones, Chris Stevems, LEO HOSOYA, Marco Madella,, Hanna Zawadzka, Victor Paz, Dorian Fuller

Pitt RIver laboratory photos ca 1998. Leo Hosoya, seated at right

(Photo courtesy of Tania Valamoti: see appended comment below)