Project

Co-Evolution of Social and Agricultural Practices at the Dawn of Farming

Goal: The project’s aim is to study how the interplay of social and agricultural factors drove the evolution of key features of the world’s oldest farming communities in southwest Asia: increasingly autonomous households, changing property rights, and the intensification of plant management practices. The main objectives are to create a high-resolution record of changing cultivation practices over time, and to correlate this record with archaeological proxy data for social and economic change: changing household organisation, morphological markers for crop domestication, subsistence-related labour investments, food sharing and ownership principles.

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Project log

Alexander Weide
added a research item
Mechanisms of selection for domestication traits in cereals and other annual plants are commonly explained from agro-technological and genetic perspectives. Since archaeobotanical data showed that domestication processes were slow and protracted, research focused on genetic constraints and hypothetical 'non-selective' management regimes to explain the low selection rates. I argue that these factors only partially explain the observed patterns and develop a model that contextualises the archaeobotanical data in their socioeconomic settings. I propose that developments towards individual storage by small household units and the gradual increase in storage capacities with the development of extended households represent key factors for establishing the conditions for selection, as these practices isolated individually managed and stored cereal subpopulations and gradually reduced the need to replenish grain stocks with grains from unmanaged populations. This genetic isolation resulted in stronger and more persistent selection rates and facilitated the genetic fixation of domestication traits on a population level. Moreover, individual storage facilities within buildings reflect gradual developments towards households as the social units that mobilised agricultural labour, which negotiated new sharing principles over cultivated resources and drove the intensification of cultivation practices. In this sense, selection rates and the slow domestication process can be understood as a function of limited food sharing networks and increased labour-inputs into early arable environments-socioeconomic processes that also unfolded gradually over a protracted period of time.
Alexander Weide
added an update
The Leverhulme Trust funded project "Co-Evolution of Social and Agricultural Practices at the Dawn of Farming" started at the Oxford School of Archaeology in December 2021 and we already completed our first field season in Israel. We followed up on the work done in context of the MSCA funded NICHE project, which was interrupted by the pandemic. This year we surveyed more wild cereal stands, measured functional traits of annual plants that grow alongside wild cereals but also in arable fields, conducted some small-scale harvesting experiments, and collected wild cereal grains for more isotopic analyses.
...so please follow this new project to stay tuned and find out more about our work and current & future research!
The photos show emmer and barley stands around Kahal and Khorazim near the Sea of Galilee, where we surveyed this year, including our field botanist Dr. John Hodgson (all photos by A. Weide).
If you want to find out more about the work we are doing in Israel, including recent outputs, please see this Twitter thread about our latest paper in Nature Plants: https://twitter.com/_AlexWeide_/status/1532393169379332096
Link to the completed NICHE project and its publications:
 
Alexander Weide
added a project goal
The project’s aim is to study how the interplay of social and agricultural factors drove the evolution of key features of the world’s oldest farming communities in southwest Asia: increasingly autonomous households, changing property rights, and the intensification of plant management practices. The main objectives are to create a high-resolution record of changing cultivation practices over time, and to correlate this record with archaeological proxy data for social and economic change: changing household organisation, morphological markers for crop domestication, subsistence-related labour investments, food sharing and ownership principles.