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Water and soil management strategies and the introduction of wheat and barley to northern China: an isotopic analysis of cultivation on the Loess Plateau

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 November 2022

Haiming Li
College of Humanities & Social Development, Nanjing Agricultural University, P.R. China Institution of Chinese Agricultural Civilization, Nanjing Agricultural University, P.R. China Agricultural Archaeology Research Center, Nanjing Agricultural University, P.R. China
Yufeng Sun
Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, USA
Ying Yang
Department of Management, Guangdong Women's Polytechnic College, P.R. China Key Laboratory of West China's Environmental System (Ministry of Education), Lanzhou University, P.R. China
Yifu Cui
College of Tourism, Huaqiao University, P.R. China
Lele Ren
Key Laboratory of West China's Environmental System (Ministry of Education), Lanzhou University, P.R. China School of History and Culture, Lanzhou University, P.R. China
Hu Li
School of History and Culture, Henan Normal University, P.R. China
Guoke Chen
Gansu Province Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeological Research, P.R. China
Petra Vaiglova
Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University, Australia
Guanghui Dong*
Key Laboratory of West China's Environmental System (Ministry of Education), Lanzhou University, P.R. China
Xinyi Liu*
Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, USA
*Authors for correspondence ✉ &
*Authors for correspondence ✉ &


Studies of ‘food globalisation’ have traced the dispersal of cereals across prehistoric Eurasia. The degree to which these crops were accompanied by knowledge of soil and water preparation is less well known, however. The authors use stable isotope and archaeobotanical analyses to trace long-term trends in cultivation practices on the Loess Plateau (6000 BC–AD 1900). The results indicate that ancient farmers cultivated grains originating in South-west Asia and used distinct strategies for different species. Barley was integrated into pre-existing practices, while wheat was grown using novel soil and water management strategies. These distinct approaches suggest that the spread of prehistoric crops and knowledge about them varied by local context.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Antiquity Publications Ltd.

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Haiming Li and Yufeng Sun contributed equally to this work


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