Thursday, 23 November 2017

The earliest wheats of Ukraine (5400 BC)

The eastern areas of Europe and their transition to the steppe that lead to Central Asia remains one of the less well-studied regions archaeobotanically. The sparseness of reliable evidence has meant that the region is sometime discussed in terms of an alternative eastern source of crops from Europe, in addition to the main thrust from Anatolia through Greece and the Balkans, and it is sometimes mooted as a region of some crop origins, such as spelt wheat. New data is always welcome, especially of a high empirical calibre, from systematic sampling and backed up by AMS dating.

New data from the Ratniv-2 site in Western Ukraine, near the eastern frontiers of the Linear Pottery (LBK) culture, has been published by Motuzaite Matuzeviciute and Telizhenko in Archaeologia Lituana. This is an important record of early crops, and as the authors point out, it clearly points to similarities to the West and Southwest in Neolithic  Europe and suggest a spread towards Ukraine from the West in the Neolithic, rather than the east. The assemblage consists of wheats, barley, flax, lentil and pea. Two direct AMS radiocarbon dates on emmer wheat grains place these assemblages between 5400 and 5200 cal.BC. Of particular interest is that the wheats here include not just einkorn and emmer but apparently at some of the socalled "new type glume wheat," which these and other authors sometimes equate with Triticum timopheevi, and 20th century relict wheat found north of the Caucasus (western Georgia). That the archaeological "new type" has the AAGG genome of timopheevi remains unproven-- although I agree it is likely. It is perhaps more accurate to regard T. timopheevi as the relict remnant of what was a once a much more diverse and widespread species of wheat, which in all likelihood originated in the Anatolia and spread through many part of Europe and east through northern Iran in the Neolithic. I have sometimes offered the name "striate emmeroid" as a descriptive alternative to  "new type", as it is hard to think of something that has been largely extinct since the Bronze Age as new, and this wheat type has been in discussion by archaeobotanists for around 20 years...

In any case, what is notable about this assemblage is that is corresponds to those crops that are most common in the Neolithic of southwest Europe, supporting the ceramic and settlement evidence that attributes to the origins of agriculture in western Ukraine to spread from the west.

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