The roots of agriculture

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The roots of agriculture
The roots of agriculture

The Roots of Agriculture

Agriculture originated in the so-called Fertile Crescent, a region in the Middle East that stretched from Turkey through Syria and Palestine to Mesopotamia and Iran. Genetic studies on einkorn, an ancestor of modern high-yield wheat, indicate that the first farmers cultivated their grain in the Karacadag Mountains in south-eastern Turkey. Manfred Heun of the Agricultural University of Norway and his collaborators believe that einkorn (Triticum monococcum) was first domesticated in the Karacadag Mountains (Science 14 November). Einkorn is one of eight fruits that are believed to have been used in agriculture for around 10,000 years.

The scientists analyzed the DNA of 338 varieties of einkorn they had collected in the Fertile Crescent and surrounding areas. Using the plants' genetic fingerprints, they identified a form of einkorn (subspecies boeoticum) that is genetically very similar to the cultivated variants. They conclude that this is the ancestral form of cultivated wheat. Archaeological excavations of early settlements where seeds have been found also indicate that einkorn domestication began in the Turkish mountains.

Heun points out that this one piece of evidence does not mean that the people who lived here 10,000 years ago invented agriculture. However, it is possible that a single group of people in this area actually cultivated all primary crops. Jared Diamond of the University of California, commenting on the publication, explains that several of these fruits originated in Turkey and some animals such as sheep, pigs and cattle were domesticated nearby. Perhaps the first farmers actually lived there.

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