Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Tamed 11,400 Years Ago, Figs Were Likely First Domesticated Crop

Date:
June 4, 2006
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Archaeobotanists have found evidence that the dawn of agriculture may have come with the domestication of fig trees in the Near East some 11,400 years ago, roughly a thousand years before such staples as wheat, barley, and legumes were domesticated in the region. The discovery dates domesticated figs to a period some 5,000 years earlier than previously thought, making the fruit trees the oldest known domesticated crop.

Figs at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository.
Credit: Photo by David Karp / Courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service

Archaeobotanists have found evidence that the dawn of agriculture may have come with the domestication of fig trees in the Near East some 11,400 years ago, roughly a thousand years before such staples as wheat, barley, and legumes were domesticated in the region. The discovery dates domesticated figs to a period some 5,000 years earlier than previously thought, making the fruit trees the oldest known domesticated crop.

Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University and Mordechai E. Kislev and Anat Hartmann of Bar-Ilan University report their findings in this week's issue of the journal Science.

"Eleven thousand years ago, there was a critical switch in the human mind -- from exploiting the earth as it is to actively changing the environment to suit our needs," says Bar-Yosef, professor of anthropology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and curator of Paleolithic archaeology at Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. "People decided to intervene in nature and supply their own food rather than relying on what was provided by the gods. This shift to a sedentary lifestyle grounded in the growing of wild crops such as barley and wheat marked a dramatic change from 2.5 million years of human history as mobile hunter-gatherers."

The researchers found nine small figs and 313 fig drupelets (a small part of an aggregate fruit such as a fig) at Gilgal I, a village in the Lower Jordan Valley, just 8 miles north of ancient Jericho, known to have been inhabited for some 200 years before being abandoned roughly 11,200 years ago. The carbonized figs were not distorted, suggesting that they may have been dried for human consumption. Similar fig drupelets were found at a second site located some 1.5 kilometers west of Gilgal.

The scientists compared the ancient figs to modern wild and domesticated variants and determined that they were a mutant selectively propagated by humans. In this variety of fig, known as parthenocarpic, the fruit develops without insect pollination and is prevented from falling off the tree, allowing it to become soft, sweet, and edible. However, because such figs do not produce seeds, they are a reproductive dead end unless humans interfere by planting shoots from the parthenocarpic trees.

"Once the parthenocarpic mutation occurred, humans must have recognized that the resulting fruits do not produce new trees, and fig tree cultivation became a common practice," Bar-Yosef says. "In this intentional act of planting a specific variant of fig tree, we can see the beginnings of agriculture. This edible fig would not have survived if not for human intervention."

Figs are very easily propagated: A piece of stem stuck in the ground will sprout roots and grow into a plant. No grafting or seeds are necessary. Bar-Yosef, Kislev, and Hartmann suggest that this ease of planting, along with improved taste resulting from minor mutations, may explain why figs were domesticated some five millennia before other fruit trees, such as the grape, olive, and date.

"The reported Gilgal figs, stored together with other vegetal staples such as wild barley, wild oat, and acorns, indicate that the subsistence strategy of these early Neolithic farmers was a mixed exploitation of wild plants and initial fig domestication," Bar-Yosef says. "Apparently, this kind of economy, a mixture of cultivation of wild plants, planting fig trees and gathering other plant foods in nature, was widely practiced during the second half of the 12th millennium before present throughout the Levant, the western wing of the Fertile Crescent."

Bar-Yosef, Kislev, and Hartmann's research was sponsored by the American School of Prehistoric Research at Harvard's Peabody Museum, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Shelby-White-Leon Levi Foundation, and the Koschitzky Foundation at Bar-Ilan University.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Tamed 11,400 Years Ago, Figs Were Likely First Domesticated Crop." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 June 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060602074522.htm>.
Harvard University. (2006, June 4). Tamed 11,400 Years Ago, Figs Were Likely First Domesticated Crop. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060602074522.htm
Harvard University. "Tamed 11,400 Years Ago, Figs Were Likely First Domesticated Crop." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060602074522.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

AP (July 28, 2014) West African nations and international health organizations are working to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history. It's one of the deadliest diseases known to man, but the CDC says it's unlikely to spread in the U.S. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

AP (July 28, 2014) Classes are being offered nationwide to encourage African Americans to learn about cooking fresh foods based on traditional African cuisine. The program is trying to combat obesity, heart disease and other ailments often linked to diet. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins