Saharan exploitation of plants 8,000 years BP


SORGHUM and millets are among the world's most important food crops and, for the inhabitants of the semi-arid tropics, they are the main sources of protein and energy. Little is known about the history of these crops; their domestication is thought to have occurred in the African savannah, but the date and precise location are unknown1,2. Excavations at an early Holocene archaeological site in southernmost Egypt, 100 km west of Abu Simbel, have yielded hundreds of carbonized seeds of sorghum and millets, with consistent radiocarbon dates of 8,000 years before present (BP), thus providing the earliest evidence for the use of these plants. They are morphologically wild, but the lipid fraction of the sorghum grains shows a closer relationship to domesticated than to wild varieties. Whatever their domestic status, the use of these plants 8,000 years ago suggests that the African plant-food complex developed independently of the Levantine wheat and barley complex.

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Wendorf, F., Close, A., Schild, R. et al. Saharan exploitation of plants 8,000 years BP. Nature 359, 721–724 (1992).

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