AsianScientist (Nov. 24, 2016) – Latest research on archaeological sites of the ancient Indus Civilization has revealed that domesticated rice farming in South Asia began far earlier than previously believed, and may have developed in tandem with—rather than as a result of—rice domestication in China.
These findings have been published in the journals Antiquity and Journal of Archaeological Science by researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Division of Archaeology, in collaboration with colleagues at Banaras Hindu University and the University of Oxford.
“We found evidence for an entirely separate domestication process in ancient South Asia, likely based around the wild species Oryza nivara. This led to the local development of a mix of ‘wetland’ and ‘dryland’ agriculture of local Oryza sativa indica rice agriculture before the truly ‘wetland’ Chinese rice, Oryza sativa japonica, arrived around 2000 BC,” says study co-author Dr. Jennifer Bates
“While wetland rice is more productive, and took over to a large extent when introduced from China, our findings appear to show there was already a long-held and sustainable culture of rice production in India as a widespread summer addition to the winter cropping during the Indus civilization.”
The archaeologists sifted for traces of ancient grains in the remains of several Indus villages within a few kilometers of the site called Rakhigari: the most recently excavated of the Indus cities that may have maintained a population of some 40,000.
As well as the winter staples of wheat and barley and winter pulses like peas and vetches, they found evidence of summer crops: including domesticated rice, but also millet and the tropical beans urad and horsegram, and used radiocarbon dating to provide the first absolute dates for Indus multi-cropping: 2890-2630 BC for millets and winter pulses, 2580-2460 BC for horsegram, and 2430-2140 BC for rice.
In contrast with evidence from elsewhere in the region, the village sites around Rakhigari reveal that summer crops appear to have been much more popular than the wheats of winter. The researchers say this may have been down to the environmental variation in this part of the former civilization: on the seasonally flooded Ghaggar-Hakra plains where different rainfall patterns and vegetation would have lent themselves to crop diversification, potentially creating local food cultures within individual areas.
“Such a diverse system was probably well suited to mitigating risk from shifts in climate,” adds study author Dr. Cameron Petrie. “It may be that some of today’s farming monocultures could learn from the local crop diversity of the Indus people 4,000 years ago.”
Source: University of Cambridge; Photo: Cameron Petrie/University of Cambridge.
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