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, 63 (2), 617-33

Early Agricultural Pathways: Moving Outside the 'Core Area' Hypothesis in Southwest Asia


Early Agricultural Pathways: Moving Outside the 'Core Area' Hypothesis in Southwest Asia

Dorian Q Fuller et al. J Exp Bot.


The origins of agriculture in the Near East has been associated with a 'core area', located in south-eastern Turkey, in which all major crops were brought into domestication within the same local domestication system operated by a single cultural group. Such an origin leads to a scenario of rapid invention of agriculture by a select cultural group and typically monophyletic origins for most crops. Surprisingly, support for a core area has never been directly tested with archaeological evidence. Over the past decade a large amount of new archaeological and genetic evidence has been discovered which brings new light on the origins of agriculture. In this review, this new evidence was brought together in order to evaluate whether a core region of origin is supported. Evidence shows that origins began earlier than previously assumed, and included 'false starts' and dead ends that involved many more species than the typical eight founder crops associated with the core area. The rates at which domestication syndrome traits became fixed were generally slow, rather than rapid, and occurred over a geographically wide range that included the North and South Levant as well as the core area. Finally, a survey of the estimated ages of archaeological sites and the onset of domestication indicates that the domestication process was ongoing in parallel outside of the core area earlier than within it. Overall, evidence suggests a scenario in which crops were domesticated slowly in different locations around the Near East rather than emanating from a core area.

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