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, 105 (33), 11597-604

Domestication and Early Agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, Diffusion, and Impact


Domestication and Early Agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, Diffusion, and Impact

Melinda A Zeder. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.


The past decade has witnessed a quantum leap in our understanding of the origins, diffusion, and impact of early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin. In large measure these advances are attributable to new methods for documenting domestication in plants and animals. The initial steps toward plant and animal domestication in the Eastern Mediterranean can now be pushed back to the 12th millennium cal B.P. Evidence for herd management and crop cultivation appears at least 1,000 years earlier than the morphological changes traditionally used to document domestication. Different species seem to have been domesticated in different parts of the Fertile Crescent, with genetic analyses detecting multiple domestic lineages for each species. Recent evidence suggests that the expansion of domesticates and agricultural economies across the Mediterranean was accomplished by several waves of seafaring colonists who established coastal farming enclaves around the Mediterranean Basin. This process also involved the adoption of domesticates and domestic technologies by indigenous populations and the local domestication of some endemic species. Human environmental impacts are seen in the complete replacement of endemic island faunas by imported mainland fauna and in today's anthropogenic, but threatened, Mediterranean landscapes where sustainable agricultural practices have helped maintain high biodiversity since the Neolithic.

Conflict of interest statement

The author declares no conflict of interest.


Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
The origin and dispersal of domestic livestock species in the Fertile Crescent. Shaded areas show the general region and the approximate dates in calibrated years B.P. in which initial domestication is thought to take place. Dates outside of the shaded areas show the approximate date when the domesticate first appears in a region. Orange, goats (Capra hircus); blue, sheep (Ovis aries); green, cattle (Bos taurus); fuscia, pigs (Sus scrofa).
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
An integrated model of the Neolithic expansion in the Mediterranean Basin. The location of colonist farming enclaves is shown in the red ellipses. Approximate dates of these enclaves are given inside the ellipses in calibrated years B.P. Red dots represent areas that are proposed to have been settled by colonist farmers; green dots indicate areas where indigenous foragers adopted elements of the Neolithic package; and blue dots indicate areas of proposed integration of colonist farmers with indigenous foraging groups. Data were complied from refs. , , , , and and figure 7.1 of ref. .

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