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Domestication as innovation : the entanglement of techniques, technology and chance in the domestication of cereal crops

By Dorian Q. Fuller, Robin G. Allaby and Chris Stevens


The origins of agriculture involved pathways of domestication in which human behaviours and plant genetic adaptations were entangled. These changes resulted in consequences that were unintended at the start of the process. This paper highlights some of the key innovations in human behaviours, such as soil preparation, harvesting and threshing, and how these were coupled with genetic ‘innovations’ within plant populations. We identify a number of ‘traps’ for early cultivators, including the needs for extra labour expenditure on crop-processing and soil fertility maintenance, but also linked gains in terms of potential crop yields. Compilations of quantitative data across a few different crops for the traits of nonshattering and seed size are discussed in terms of the apparently slow process of domestication, and parallels and differences between different regional pathways are identified. We highlight the need to bridge the gap between a Neolithic archaeobotanical focus on domestication and a focus of later periods on crop-processing activities and labour organization. In addition, archaeobotanical data provide a basis for rethinking previous assumptions about how plant genetic data should be related to the origins of agriculture and we contrast two alternative hypotheses: gradual evolution with low selection pressure versus metastable equilibrium that prolonged the persistence of ‘semi-domesticated’ populations. Our revised understanding of the innovations involved in plant domestication highlight the need for new approaches to collecting, modelling and integrating genetic data and archaeobotanical evidence

Topics: CC, SB
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2010
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:2606

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