The domestication and spread of millet as an arable crop

Sites before 5000 BC with remains of millet varieties (Hunt 2008). Click for larger image in new window.Millet was grown by farmers both west and east, so until recently it was unclear who thought of it first. Now research has shown that by 8,000 BC, common millet (Panicum miliaceum) was a staple crop for early farmers around China's Yellow River, well ahead of Europe.1H. Lu et al., Earliest domestication of common millet (Panicum miliaceum) in East Asia extended to 10,000 years ago, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, vol. 106, no. 18 (5 May 2009), pp. 7367-7372. Domestication was a slow process. Millet was domesticated in China at least 1,000 years before it became even a substantial portion of the diet of the farmers of Yangshao. 2M. K. Jones and X.Y. Liu, Origins of agriculture in East Asia, Science, vol. 324 (2009), pp. 730-731. The earliest millet in Europe was thought to be that found impressed in pottery at the Sokoltsy 2 site in Ukraine about 6,300 BC.3H. V. Hunt et al., Millets across Eurasia: chronology and context of early records of the genera Panicum and Setaria from archaeological sites in the Old World, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, vol. 17 (2008), Suppl 1, S5–S18. If millet cultivation moved westwards so early, it would have had to pass through regions that farming had not entered. So far the earliest absolutely dated evidence for wheat and millet from anywhere in the steppe zone comes from Begash in eastern Kazakhstan - 2300-2100 BC.4M.D. Frachetti et al, Earliest direct evidence for broomcorn millet and wheat in the central Eurasian steppe region, Antiquity, vol. 84, no. 326 (December 2010), pp. 993–1010. A fresh look at the dating of domesticated millet in Europe seems to have solved the puzzle. Direct radiocarbon dating of millet grains which had previously been dated by their context yielded consistently later dates. This prompted a more critical look at grain impressions in pottery, noting that these could come from other species. Millet in greater quantity appears in Europe in the Bronze Age. So the movement westwards of this crop seems less remarkable.5G. Motuzaite‑Matuzeviciut et al., The early chronology of broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) in Europe, Antiquity, vol. 87, no. 338 (December 2013), pp. 1073–1085.

Notes

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  1. H. Lu et al., Earliest domestication of common millet (Panicum miliaceum) in East Asia extended to 10,000 years ago, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, vol. 106, no. 18 (5 May 2009), pp. 7367-7372.
  2. M. K. Jones and X.Y. Liu, Origins of agriculture in East Asia, Science, vol. 324 (2009), pp. 730-731.
  3. H. V. Hunt et al., Millets across Eurasia: chronology and context of early records of the genera Panicum and Setaria from archaeological sites in the Old World, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, vol. 17 (2008), Suppl 1, S5–S18.
  4. M.D. Frachetti et al, Earliest direct evidence for broomcorn millet and wheat in the central Eurasian steppe region, Antiquity, vol. 84, no. 326 (December 2010), pp. 993–1010.
  5. G. Motuzaite‑Matuzeviciut et al., The early chronology of broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) in Europe, Antiquity, vol. 87, no. 338 (December 2013), pp. 1073–1085.