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Spelt, itself an amphiploid hybrid between Emmer Wheat and a Goat Grass, was a hard hulled type of wheat. However, about 8,500 BP, a fortuitous natural mutation changed the structure of the Spelt spike or ear. The ear became roughly square in section, with more grains and a tougher rachis. More importantly, the hard hull enclosing the grain mutated to a softer shell that would break away when threshed, thus releasing the grains. This free-threshing hexaploid hybrid evolved further to become the source of our modern Bread Wheat, Triticum aestivum.
Recent evidence indicates that potatoes were first domesticated in the central Andes of South America some 10,000 years ago. These belonged to the primitive diploid species,Solanum stenotomum, derived from the wild prototype,S. leptophyes. The tetraploid potato,S. tuberosum, arose through hybridization ofS. stenotomum with a second wild diploid species,S. sparsipilum. Further evolution took place with at least two other wild species,S. acaule andS. megistacrolobum, bringing genes for frost resistance into the cultivated gene pool, and resulting in a polyploid series.
Some 10,000 years ago white rice evolved from wild red rice and began spreading around the globe.
Researchers at Cornell and elsewhere have determined that 97.9 percent of all white rice is derived from a mutation (a deletion of DNA) in a single gene originating in the Japonica subspecies of rice.
The researchers speculate that ancient farmers actively bred and spread white rice varieties first throughout the Himalayan region and then the rest of the world because the varieties cooked faster (requiring less fuel), their hulls were easier to remove compared with red rice, and disease and insects were easier to see amid the white grains. The farmers also may have favored one mutation over the other because it may have produced favorable grains more consistently, the researchers say.
Squash detective. In a similar way, research on ancient plant domestication could help improve today's crops, says Bruce Smith, an archaeobotanist with the National Museum of Natural History. He has pinpointed the origins of squash domestication to 10,000 years ago in Oaxaca, Mexico, and plans to cross wild squash with genetically modified squash to test whether genetic tinkering might threaten biodiversity.
Once agriculture started gaining momentum, cereal grasses (beginning with emmer, einkorn and barley), and not simply those that would favour greater caloric returns through larger seeds, were selectively bred. Plants that possessed traits such as small seeds or bitter taste would have been seen as undesirable. Plants that rapidly shed their seeds on maturity tended not to be gathered at harvest, thus not stored and not seeded the following season; years of harvesting selected for strains that retained their edible seeds longer. Several plant species, the "pioneer crops" or Neolithic founder crops, were the earliest plants successfully manipulated by humans. Some of these pioneering attempts failed at first and crops were abandoned, sometimes to be taken up again and successfully domesticated thousands of years later: rye, tried and abandoned in Neolithic Anatolia, made its way to Europe as weed seeds and was successfully domesticated in Europe, thousands of years after the earliest agriculture. Wild lentils present a different challenge that needed to be overcome: most of the wild seeds do not germinate in the first year; the first evidence of lentil domestication, breaking dormancy in their first year, was found in the early Neolithic at Jerf el-Ahmar, (in modern Syria), and quickly spread south to the Netiv Hagdud site in the Jordan Valley. This process of domestication allowed the founder crops to adapt and eventually become larger, more easily harvested, more dependable in storage and more useful to the human population.
A Sumerian Harvester's sickle dated to 3000 BCBarley and, most likely, oats were cultivated in the Jordan Valley, represented by the early Neolithic site of Gilgal, where in 2006 archaeologists found caches of seeds of each in quantities too large to be accounted for even by intensive gathering, at strata dateable c. 11,000 years ago. Some of the plants tried and then abandoned during the Neolithic period in the Ancient Near East, at sites like Gilgal, were later successfully domesticated in other parts of the world.
Once early farmers perfected their agricultural techniques, their crops would yield surpluses which needed storage. Most hunter gatherers could not easily store food for long due to their migratory lifestyle, whereas those with a sedentary dwelling could store their surplus grain. Eventually granaries were developed that allowed villages to store their seeds for longer periods of time. So with more food, the population expanded and communities developed specialized workers and more advanced tools.
The process was not as linear as was once thought, but a more complicated effort, which was undertaken by different human populations in different regions in many different ways.
Dog 10,000 SW Asia, China, N.America
Sheep 8,000 SW Asia
Goat 8,000 SW Asia
Pig 8,000 SW Asia, China
Donkey 4,000 Egypt
Horse 4,000 Ukraine
Water Buffalo 4,000 S.Asia or China
Llama/alpaca 3,500 S.America
Chicken 3,500 Central Asia
Arabian Camel 2,500 Arabia
Bactrian Camel 2,500 Central Asia