Israeli findings push first wheat cultivation back 11,000 years

A wheat field in Israel. Credit: PikiWiki Israel.

(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to New findings at the archaeological site Ohalo II near the Sea of Galilee have revealed that wheat and barley had been sown there dating back 23,000 years, which is 11,000 years earlier than the estimated inception of organized agriculture.

Professor Ehud Weiss of the Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology Department at Bar-Ilan University and Dr. Ainit Snir led the team of archaeologists, botanists, and ecologists who made the breakthrough discovery, which was published in the July issue of the Plos One scientific journal.

Until now, historians have believed that humans began transitioning from hunter-gatherer societies to established agriculture communities some 12,000 years ago. The Israeli researchers based their new conclusion on three discoveries: the atypically high presence of domestic, rather than wild, wheat and barley dispersal units; a high concentration of proto-weeds (plants of the type known to flourish in fields planted with domesticated crops); and sickle blades that were used to cut and harvest grains.

Weiss explained that the plant remains from the site were unusually well-preserved because they had been charred and then covered by sediment and water, which sealed them in low-oxygen conditions.

“Due to this, it was possible to recover an extensive amount of information on the site and its inhabitants—which made this a uniquely preserved site, and therefore one of the best archaeological examples worldwide of hunter-gatherers’ way of life. Here we see evidence of repeated sowing and harvesting of later domesticated cereals,” Weiss said.

Posted on July 24, 2015 .