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Food globalisation in prehistory: top down or bottom up?

  • Xinyi Liu (a1) and Martin K. Jones (a2)

Extract

Scholarly interest has been growing in an episode of Old World globalisation of food resources significantly predating the ‘Silk Road’. This process was characteristic of crosscontinental translocations of starch-based crops mostly during the third and second millennia BC but which might have been initiated in an earlier period (Jones et al. 2011). Among these translocations we can include a range of crops originally from Southwest Asia, notably bread wheat and barley, and others originally from northern China, such as broomcorn and foxtail millet (Hunt et al. 2008; Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute et al. 2013). Parallel patterns of crop movement between North Africa and South Asia have been observed and discussed in some depth (Boivin & Fuller 2009; Fuller et al. 2011; Boivin et al. 2013). The impetus behind this growth of interest has been the expansion of archaeobotanical research in South and East Asia over the past decade (Fuller 2002; Crawford 2006; Lee et al. 2007; Liu et al. 2008; Zhao 2010). This paper considers the agents responsible for the food globalisation process during the third and second millennia BC. A key aspect of trans-Eurasian starch-crop movement was that it constituted an addition to agricultural systems, rather than movement to regions devoid of existing starch-based agriculture. Other economic plants, such as grapes, dates and peas, also moved considerable distances in the archaeological record, often to areas previously devoid of those plants. However, the novel starchy crops held a particular significance. In both cases, Southwest Asian wheat and barley and East Asian millets went on to become important staple foods in many of their new destinations.

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