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In the 1960s, using the most primitive of tools, an American plant scientist demonstrated that a small family, working not all that hard for about three weeks, could gather enough wild cereal seeds to last them easily for a year or more. Jack Harlan’s experiments on the slopes of the Karacadağ mountains in Turkey offer a perfect gateway to this exploration of the history of bread and wheat.
Photo of Wild einkorn, wild emmer and Aegilops species in Karacadag mountain range by H. Özkan.
Excellent presentation. Harlan’s powerful paper [Harlan JR. 1967 A wild wheat harvest in Turkey. Archaeology 20, 197–201] was a key reference in our recent attempt to provide a generic explanation for the origins of cereal agriculture [DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0277]. Our paper reviewed the ecology of the immediate wild relatives of einkorn, emmer and barley and found – as Harlan had demonstrated – that they grow in `massive’ monodominant stands (as do the relatives of oats, rye and Asian rice).
We suggested that this ancestral monodominance validated present-day cereal monocultures.
A common adaptive feature of these Asian cereal relatives is their long awns – clearly seen in the photo. These awns have tiny ratchet teeth capable of burying the unusually large seeds in the ground: perhaps an explanation as to why modern cereal farming needs so much tilling and deep seeding to replace the previous shattering and seed burying found in nature.