Friday, 9 July 2010

The arrival of wheat in China

The extensive set of direct dates, on the largest early assemblage of wheat and barley in China, provides important new evidence on the arrival of West Asian crops, and western stimulus, into China. Rowan Flad, Li Suicheng, Wu Xiaohung and Jimmy Zhao, have recently reported new archaeobotanical evidence and AMS dates from the Gansu corridor site of Donhuishan in short article in The Holocene, "Early wheat in China: Results from new studies at Donghuishan in the Hexi Corridor." Importantly, the evidence includes the first large assemblage of wheat rachis remains. These provide the first clear confirmation of what has long been taken for granted, that the early wheat in China is only hexaploid bread wheat, leaving the eastern margins of tetraploid naked wheats (durum) somewhere in central Asia and to the south in India. This article also provides an updated review of all the early wheat finds that have been published from China.

In my version of their map (left), I have colour-coded wheat reports by broad period. First of all, it can be seen that finds line up along the eastern line of the classical silk road, running through the Gansu corridor and along the Lower Yellow river basin. It should noted that while the earliest finds are all attributed to 2500-2000 BC, or even more than 2500 BC in the case of Xishanping, none of these earliest finds is directly AMS dated. The case on Donghuishan reported by Flad et al., provides a warning call against putting too much faith in single or few or associated dates, as the earlier evidence from Donghuishan has suggested the wheat could be closer to 2500 BC rather than the 1600-1500 BC age indicated by numerous dates, including 4 directly on barley (but not wheat). Nevertheless it still seems plausible that wheat and barley entered China by ca. 2500 BC, even if the wheat crop did not take off until closer to 2000 BC. This period of arrival ion China is paralleled by the adoption from the west also of sheep, cattle and probably copper metallurgy (with a possible parallel spread to Southeast Asia-- as argued recently by Whyte and Hamilton). The counter current was provided by Chinese millets, as both Panicum miliaceum and probably Setaria italica arrive in northwestern India around this period, and Panicum is also reported in Yemen (ca. 2200 BC) and in Sudan by ca. 1700 BC. On the dispersal of westwards and southwards through the Indus to Arabia and Nubia, see discussion the paper "Cattle, Crops and Commensals" that I recently published with Nicole Boivin in the French periodical Etudes Ocean Indien [pdf]. I have also argued that japonica rice followed this route west from the Yellow river and in India (see discussion in my article in the recent rice issue of Archaeological and Anthropoloigical Sciences)

Interestingly the barley from Donghuishan, like that from Xishanping, is notable since most sites in China that have yielded wheat have lacked barley. This indicates that the adoption of wheat went through a strong cultural filter in which is was only wheat rather than wheat and barley that was adopted in much of central China. This provides a curious contrast from other regions of Asia, whether west Asia, central Asia of South Asia where wheat and barley are almost always found together archaeologically. In India these two winter cereals are also often found with evidence for pulses crops like lentils, peas or chickpeas. None of these Southwest Asia crops appears to have made it into prehistoric China. Thus the diffusion of crops into (and out of) China was selective process of cultural choice.


P Priyadarshi said...

Most of what Dorian fuller writes is his own assumptions or imaginations, which move away by 180 degrees from reality. This is result of inadequate exaustion of published matterial on the topic.

His preoccupation with the thery that "everything Indian came to India from outside" blinds his work from facts. It is essential that necessary factual inputs be put here so that a seeking reader is well informed.

There is ample evidence that Indian cow went to China. There is genetic evidence as well as linguistic evidence.

In Chinese cow and bull are called "gu". In Thai cow is called "koh". This clearly proves migratin of cow from India to China, because "go, cow, koh' etc are proven Indo-European cognates.

Rice cannot be seen in isolation. It has to be seen with other things. It has to be seen with DNA. Edmondson gives a wonderful summary of DNA, linguistic and cultural events associated with migration of Indian DNA to Chine.
Human DNA migrated from India to Southeast Asia and China .

In Thai language they are called "koh".

P Priyadarshi said...

The link for Edmondson's site is .
Migration of rice cultivation was necessarily associated with migration of Indian mice to SE Asia, and from there to China. Hence DNA studies of Cow, mice, black rat, etc all must be taken into account. The link for mice migration route picture is this: and

Dorian Fuller said...

I now entirely sure how to respond in a positive way to this comment. I have never claimed that everything came from outside India. Quite the opposite, you will find my research has found evidence for, and my publications have long championed, several distinct local centres of plant domestication within India, including an early independent start of rice cultivation in the Ganges (althoughwe now have to infer that improvements in rice that made indica what it is today involved hybridization with introduced varieties), and indepdent domestication of several pulses and millets in South India, Gujarat and perhaps Haryana. For details, see my J. of World prehistory paper of 2006 [pdf:]

Zebu cattle are also clearly South Asian, and may have involved more than one domestication process. Zebu spread from India westwards (importantly to Yemen and East Africa) and eastwards to Southeast Asia and South China. However, the first cattle in China were from West Asian taurines that came across central Asia as did wheat, barley and sheep. I have suggested that Chinese millets and probably Japonica rice moved in the other direction. For exchanges of millets and cattl, as well as mice and rats between India and Africa in prehistory, one cane look at the recent review "Crops, cattle and commensals", downloadable here:

Hard archaeological evidence increasingly shows that the past was complex and various regions prehistories are interlinked through long distance contacts, even if these were indirect and occassional.

P Priyadarshi said...

No doubt the author under consideration has put in enormous effort in discovering truths of the past, and has made us know many things which we may never have known otherwise, e.g. his comparative linguistic study of words relating to weaving, net-making etc in Austro-Asiatic, Dravidian and Indo-European languages, the conclusions have usually been drawn conservatively.

The racist theory of multiple origin of mankind from multiple hominid sub-species at separate places gave birth to the much believed language family concept (Haeckel: Haeckel, Ernst, Der Monismus als Band zwischen Religion und Wissenschaft (Stuttgart: A. Kröner, 1905). Haeckel first explicitly endorsed Schleicher=s conception of monism in his Generelle Morphologie der Organismen, 2 vols. (Berlin: Reimer, 1866), 1: 105-108. Also see, Haeckel, Ernst; Die Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte, Reimer, Berlin, 1868, pp. 546, 549, 550.). When the modern theory of common origin of mankind came, all such older beliefs should have been discarded.

Now it has been found that languages have migrated with human DNAs, sometimes with mitochondrial at other times with Y-chromosomal [see Fig. 1, in by Cavalli-Sforza, L.L. et al; “Reconstruction of human evolution: Bringing together genetic, archaeological, and linguistic data”, PNAS 1988, 85: 6002-6006; Another article is HUGO pan-Asian SNP Consortium, Mapping Human genetic Diversity in Asia, Science 2009, 326(5959): 1541-1545, URL: ]

Figures provided by HUGO and Cavalli-Sforza clarify the relationship or overlap between language and genes.

Thus it is outdated to think that Thai, Dravidian and Indo-European languages were separate. Actually they evolved in the same geographical territory where their DNAs were evolving, i.e. India.

Fullers article "Crops, cattle and commensals", is a indeed taming of a difficult task, yet there are factual errors. Rattus rattus migrated to West Asia in 20,000 BP, and Mus domesticus reached West Asia from India about 15,000 ybp. This would place indian farming to a much earlier date, because these commensals are believed to have migrated with agriculture. Pre-agriculture man prefered to eat rats and mice, hence these animals did not migrate out of India with man during his earlier migrations to Central Asia.

[Alpin, Ken in Science News, Science Daily, Feb. 6, 2008.; Tollenaere, C. et al, Phylogenpgraphy of the introduced species Rattus rattus in the western Indian Ocean, with special emphasis on the colonization history of Madagascar, Journal of Biogeography 2010, 37 (3): 398-410. URL:;

References for house mice are: Boursot, P., et al.; "Origin and radiation of the house mouse: mitochondrial DNA phylogeny", in Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 1996, 9: 391-415.
Ferris, S. D. et al; “Mitochondrial DNA evolution in mice”, in Genetics, 1983 Nov, 105(3):681-721.
Geraldis, Armando, et al; “Inferring the history of speciation in house mice from autosomal, X-linked, Y-linked and mitochondrial genes”, in Molecular Ecology, 2008, vol. 17, issue 24, pp. 5349-5363.

Din, W. et al; “Origin and radiation of the house mouse: clues from nuclear genes”, in Journal of Evolutionary Biology 9(5), September 1996:519-539.
Boursot, P. et al; “Evolution of House Mice”, in Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 1993, vol. 24, pp. 119-152.

P Priyadarshi said...
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P Priyadarshi said...
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Anonymous said...

excellent and informative