Early farming and plant domestication projects

Five tenth millennium sites under study, and experimental cultivation of wild progenitors at Jalès in southern France.


Tenth millennium sites

The Euphrates  

Jerf el Ahmar (PPNA 9700- 9200 BP non cal.) Excavator D. Stordeur over 500 samples now under study. For preliminary results see Willcox 1996, Willcox & Fornite 1999, Willcox 2002, for photos of plant remains from Jerf el Ahmar see images for the archaeology see links Jerf el Ahmar web site. Using measurements, a diachronic increase in grain size for einkorn and barley has been identified between early and late levels. This change appears to result from the introduction of larger grained varieties.

Dja'dé (early PPNB 9500 -9000 BP non cal.) Excavator E.Coqueugniot, over 200 samples now under study. For preliminary results see Willcox 1996, for photos of some of the plant remains from  Dja'dé see images and for the archaeology see links Dja'dé web site.

Northern Syria

Tell Qaramel (10200- 9500 BP non cal.) Excavator Ryszard Mazurowski, Warsaw University.


Shillourokambos Late tenth early ninth millennium site. Excavator J. Guilaine. For photos see links Shillourokambos and for preliminary archaeobotanical results Willcox 2000.


Aswad. In 2001 D. Stordeur started new area excavations at the site of Aswad where two small stondages were dug by H. de Contenson over thirty years ago. This site is very rich in charred remains and already a considerable quantity of plant remains have been recovered. So far the new results confirm those found by W. van Zeist. Fig and flax appear at the end of the tenth millennium PB.

Wetland plants associated with the ancient lake are very common, these include Phragmites, Scirpus, Typha, Tamarix, Juncus, Fraxinus, Populus and Charophytes such as Nitella and Chara. Ducks, geese, cranes and fish bones were also common, suggesting the lake played an important role in the local economy.

Experimental Cultivation

At our centre in southern France we have been growing the wild progenitors of einkorn, emmer and barley since 1986 (for images of wild cereals in their natural habitat see wild progenitors). The aim was to establish how long it would take for morphological domestication to occur. Our conclusions are that if rigorous farming practices are adhered to, then the domestication process could proceed rapidly. However under conditions which more closely mimic early farming, where wild populations and crops were constantly in contact, selection for morphological domestication could take millennia rather than centuries (see Willcox 1999).

Harvest time at the experimental fields at Jalès see also wild progenitors

Below is a weed assemblage that has been identified at Jerf el Ahmar and Dja'dé which is associated with pulses and cereals. The assemblage strongly suggests that cultivation occurred despite the fact that most remains do not show any signs of morphological domestication. However, our latest work on samples from Dja'dé have produced einkorn specimens suggestive of domestication.

Weed assemblage

Adonis, Aegilops, Astragalus, Avena, Bellevalia, Bromus, Camelina, Centaurea, Centranthus, Chrozophora, Coronilla, Erodium, Fumaria, Galium, Glaucium, Hordeum type murinum, Lathyrus, Lithospernum, Lolium, Malva, Papaver, Polygonum, Reseda, Silene, Valerianella, Vicia.