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1719Re: Origins of Cultivation (was Re: [ANE-2] Old Figs)

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  • DAVID HALL
    Jun 4, 2006
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      I am not sure if the discovery of parthenocarpic figs indicates a cultivated variety or naturally occurring parthenocarpic tree that happened by chance.

      Wild oats, barley, and acorns are indications of either gathering activities or cultivation.

      It is likely that there was some sort of agricultural acitivity by 11,000 BP as this was about the time studies indicated people were domesticating sheep in the area of the Shanidar Cave, Northern Iraq c. 11,000 BP. It was speculated that there were alot more male lamb bones in the settlement than ewe lamb bone remains indicating the culling of males in order to keep more females for the greater milk and lamb production of the flock. If the people were hunting rather than herding, then they wanted to eat the males more than the females to preserve the flock; as only one male was required to mate with many females to continue the life of the flock.

      Villages indicate sedentary activity dependent on rich gathering/hunting grounds or the added advantage of cultivation or other advanced agricultural processes.

      David Q. Hall
      dqhall@...





      Robert Whiting <whiting@...> wrote:
      On Sat, 3 Jun 2006, DAVID HALL wrote:

      > RE: Robert Whiting's comment:
      >
      > Perhaps there was a confusion between the terms domestication and
      > cultivation. To cultivate implies "production of food by preparing the
      > land to grow crops". This might mean planting a seed after scratching
      > the ground with a stick and dropping seeds into the loosened soil.

      Yes, there is doubtless a difference between cultivation and
      domestication. Presumably domestication occurred after cultivation began
      by selecting the seeds of the best suited grain for cultivation leading
      eventually to the domesticated variety.

      > The article about figs indicated that the figs were evidence of human
      > cultivation without providing details or proof of how the author
      > determined the figs were planted by hand or gathered from fig trees
      > growing wild.

      The BBC article posted by Jim West is better in this respect than the NPR
      article. To quote from the BBC article
      (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5038116.stm):

      After examining the figs, they [the authors] determined that it was a
      self-pollinating, or parthenocarpic, variety, like the kind we eat
      today.

      In nature, parthenocarpic fig trees appear now and again by a chance
      genetic mutation; but because they do not produce seeds, they cannot
      reproduce alone - they require a shoot to be removed and replanted.

      Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist from Harvard University and an author
      on the Science paper, said: "Once the parthenocarpic mutation occurred,
      humans must have recognised that the resulting fruits do not produce new
      trees, and fig tree cultivation became a common practice.

      "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."

      One needs to know that the parthenocarpic mutation is tastier than the
      wild fig an hence was selected by humans for cultivation. The
      parthenocarpic variety cannot be fertilized and can only be propagated by
      cultivation. Cultivation by transplanting a shoot from the original tree,
      however, is very simple.

      > Whether the figs were thought to be hybrids from natural cross
      > pollination or pollination by hand. The fig was usually pollinated by a
      > wasp. When the fig was unpollinated it may have been scratched/dressed
      > to enhance a ripening without pollination. This was a form of
      > agricultural technology but not cultivation.

      The parthenocarpic variety cannot be pollinated, neither by wasps nor by
      humans. The seeds lack embryos. Interestingly, wasps were found in the
      figs (I have now had a chance to see the original article in Science
      rather than the news reports of it; this provides a much more detailed
      background).

      > James Mellaart studied the Neolithic of upper Syria and Anatolia. He
      > cited a study where wild emmer not cultivated was gathered by hand in
      > great quantities. Such seed may have been stored in unfired clay silos
      > from early dates without any cultivation having occurred.
      > Domestication of numerous plants and animals was thought to have
      > occurred as early as the Neolithic.

      Almost certainly as early as the neolithic. The existence of villages
      implies cultivation (permanent settlements in the vicinity of an assured
      food supply). While it is usually fairly easy to tell the difference
      between seeds from wild and domesticated plants, there is nothing to prove
      that wild plants were not being cultivated (rather than simply gathered
      where they occurred). Indeed, it is the consensus that cultivation led to
      domestication. The real question is how long it took.

      <snip>


      Bob Whiting
      whiting@...
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