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, 111 (17), 6139-46

Current Perspectives and the Future of Domestication Studies


Current Perspectives and the Future of Domestication Studies

Greger Larson et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.


It is difficult to overstate the cultural and biological impacts that the domestication of plants and animals has had on our species. Fundamental questions regarding where, when, and how many times domestication took place have been of primary interest within a wide range of academic disciplines. Within the last two decades, the advent of new archaeological and genetic techniques has revolutionized our understanding of the pattern and process of domestication and agricultural origins that led to our modern way of life. In the spring of 2011, 25 scholars with a central interest in domestication representing the fields of genetics, archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, geoarchaeology, and archaeology met at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center to discuss recent domestication research progress and identify challenges for the future. In this introduction to the resulting Special Feature, we present the state of the art in the field by discussing what is known about the spatial and temporal patterns of domestication, and controversies surrounding the speed, intentionality, and evolutionary aspects of the domestication process. We then highlight three key challenges for future research. We conclude by arguing that although recent progress has been impressive, the next decade will yield even more substantial insights not only into how domestication took place, but also when and where it did, and where and why it did not.

Keywords: agriculture; evolution; human ecology; human history; selection.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
A map depicting likely centers where the domestication of at least one plant or animal took place. Black outlines surround the most widely accepted independent centers of domestication, and sources of major diffusions of domesticates are indicated by arrows. Green and purple regions, respectively, are those where the domestication process took place during the late Pleistocene to early Holocene transition (12,000–8,200 B.P.), and in the middle Holocene (8,200–4,200 B.P.). Brown regions represent areas where, at present, the evidence for domestication is interpreted based upon the presence of domestic forms indigenous to these regions found outside of their native distributions. Letters A–H correspond to those listed in Fig. 2. Additional detail and references associated with each region are found in the SI Text.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
A chronological chart listing the regions where, and the time frames over which, key plants and animals were domesticated. The numbers in the black circles represent thousands of years before present. Gray dashed lines represent documented exploitation before domestication or posited as necessary lead-time to domestication. Blue dashed lines represent either the management of plants or animals (including translocation) or predomestication cultivation of plants, neither of which were associated with morphological indications of domestication. Red bars frame the period over which morphological changes associated with domestication are first documented and a short, solid red bar represents the latest time by which domestication occurred. Although early Holocene plant domestication took place independently in both the Old and New Worlds, early Holocene animal domestication was restricted to the Near East. In addition, the majority of plants and animals on this list were domesticated in the middle Holocene. Additional details and references associated with each taxon are found in Table S1. Letters A–H correspond to those found in Fig. 1.

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