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, 109 (10), 3726-30

Early Millet Use in Northern China

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Early Millet Use in Northern China

Xiaoyan Yang et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

It is generally understood that foxtail millet and broomcorn millet were initially domesticated in Northern China where they eventually became the dominant plant food crops. The rarity of older archaeological sites and archaeobotanical work in the region, however, renders both the origins of these plants and their processes of domestication poorly understood. Here we present ancient starch grain assemblages recovered from cultural deposits, including carbonized residues adhering to an early pottery sherd as well as grinding stone tools excavated from the sites of Nanzhuangtou (11.5-11.0 cal kyBP) and Donghulin (11.0-9.5 cal kyBP) in the North China Plain. Our data extend the record of millet use in China by nearly 1,000 y, and the record of foxtail millet in the region by at least two millennia. The patterning of starch residues within the samples allow for the formulation of the hypothesis that foxtail millets were cultivated for an extended period of two millennia, during which this crop plant appears to have been undergoing domestication. Future research in the region will help clarify the processes in place.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Location of study region and archaeological sites. The Nanzhuangtou and Donghulin sites are indicated by the red rectangle and triangle, respectively (Right). The red star is the locality of Beijing, and the red dots are the localities of other sites mentioned in the text. The light-to-dark green shading indicates low-to-high elevation.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Characteristic starch grains from seeds of wild and domesticated millets. (A) Setaria plicata from Guangdong Province. (B) Setaria parviflora from unknown region in South China. (C) Setaria faberil from Anhui Province. (D) Setaria chondrachne from Jiangsu Province. (E) Setaria pumila from Shandong Province. (F) S. viridis from Inner Mongolia. (G) Panicum miliaceum from Shaanxi Provinces. (H) P. bisulcatum from Beijing. (I) S. italica from Hebei Province. (Scale bar: 20 μm.)
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
Starch grains recovered from the sites of Nanzhuangtou and Donghulin. (A and B) Polyhedral and spherical starch grains recovered from the stone tools excavated from the Nanzhuangtou site. (C–E) Starch grains recovered from the stone tools excavated from the Donghulin site. Note wrinkled surface and rough edges in E. (F) Starch grain recovered from the carbonized residues adhering to the sherd, Donghulin site. (G) Starch grain recovered from the cultural deposits, Donghulin site. (H) Starch grain from the tribe Triticeae. (I) Starch grain from a geophyte source. (Scale bars: A–G, 10 μm, H and I, 20 μm.)
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.
Site assemblage compositions of diagnostic characteristics of millet starch grains. From left to right, Nanzhuangtou (NZT), the early occupation of Donghulin (DHLE), and the late occupation at Donghulin (DHLL). The blue and red graph shows the ratio of starch grains with wrinkled surfaces to those that are smooth. The yellow graph shows the ratio of starch grains that are >14 μm to those <14 μm.

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