Narrowing the harvest: Increasing sickle investment and the rise of domesticated cereal agriculture in the Fertile Crescent

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Authors: Maeda, O., Lucas, L., Silva, F., Tanno, K.I. and Fuller, D.Q.

Journal: Quaternary Science Reviews

Volume: 145

Pages: 226-237

ISSN: 0277-3791

DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2016.05.032

© 2016 The Authors. For the first time we integrate quantitative data on lithic sickles and archaeobotanical evidence for domestication and the evolution of plant economies from sites dated to the terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene (ca. 12000-5000 cal. BCE) from throughout the Fertile Crescent region of Southwest Asia. We find a strong correlation in some regions, throughout the Levant, for increasing investment in sickles that tracks the evidence for increasing reliance on cereal crops, while evidence for morphological domestication in wheats (Triticum monococcum and Triticum dicoccum) and barley (Hordeum vulgare) was delayed in comparison to sickle use. These data indicate that while the co-increase of sickle blades and cereal crops support the protracted development of agricultural practice, sickles did not drive the initial stages of the domestication process but rather were a cultural adaptation to increasing reliance on cereals that were still undergoing selection for morphological change. For other regions, such as the Eastern Fertile Crescent and Cyprus such correlations are weaker or non-existent suggesting diverse cultural trajectories to cereal domestication. We conclude that sickles were an exaptation transferred to cereal harvesting and important in signalling a new cultural identity of "farmers". Furthermore, the protracted process of technological and agricultural evolution calls into question hypotheses that the transition to agriculture was caused by any particular climatic event.

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