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How the East was won: travels of cereals in Eurasia

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A number of staple crops were domesticated in China approximately 10,000 years ago. These included foxtail and broomcorn millets, which originated in the north of the country, and rice and buckwheat, which originated from further south. Over the next several millennia these staple crops sustained the Chinese people and contributed towards increasing populations and levels of societal organization. However, around 4000 years ago, new crops began to appear in the archaeological record in China, notably wheat and barley, which had been domesticated far away in Southwest Asia. These new crops became increasingly prominent in China and are still important crops under cultivation today. Why did Chinese farmers adopt these novel crops when they already had indigenous staples? This talk will focus on the arrival of wheat and barley in China, and consider the possible reasons why these crops were added to the Chinese suite of domesticates. The talk will also focus on the methods that we are using to study the spread of wheat and barley into China and consider what sorts of challenges farmers may have faced in cultivating these novel crops.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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