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The early history of wheat in China from 14C dating and Bayesian chronological modelling

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 08 June 2018

This article has been updated


Wheat is regarded as one of the most important West Asian domesticates that were introduced into Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age China. Despite a growing body of archaeological data, the timing and routes of its dispersal remain controversial. New radiocarbon (14C) dating evidence from six archaeological sites in the Shandong and Liaoning Peninsulas and Bayesian modelling of available 14C data from China suggest that wheat appeared in the lower Yellow River around 2600 Before Common Era (bce), followed by Gansu and Xinjiang around 1900 bce and finally occurred in the middle Yellow River and Tibet regions by 1600 bce. These results neither support long-standing hypotheses of a progressive spread of wheat agriculture from Xinjiang or Gansu to eastern China nor suggest a nearly synchronous appearance in this vast zone, but corroborate transmission to lower Yellow River elites as an exotic good through cultural interactions with the Eurasian steppe along north–south routes.

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Fig. 1: Topographical maps showing the archaeological sites from China with directly dated wheat remains contained in the compiled data set and potential dispersal routes of wheat into and within China.
Fig. 2: Size distribution of charred wheat grains from different regions of Asia and photographs of charred wheat grains from the lower Yellow River region.
Fig. 3
Fig. 4: Analysis of 14C date BA92101.

Change history

  • 08 June 2018

    In the version of this Article originally published, the x and y axis labels in Fig. 1 were switched over; the correct labels are: ‘Longitude (° N)’ on the x axis, and ‘Latitude (° E)’ on the y axis. This figure has now been amended in all versions of the Article.


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Research grants from the German Archaeological Institute, Gerda Henkel Stiftung (grant no. AZ 06/F/17), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant no. LE 3508/1-1), National Basic Research Program of China (grant no. 2015CB953803), Shandong University and the National Social Science Fund of China (grant no. 11AZD116, 12&ZD151 and 12&ZD194) are gratefully acknowledged. We appreciate support from Robert Spengler (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History) and Fengshi Luan (Shandong University). Thanks are also extended to colleagues at Poznan Radiocarbon Laboratory, Shandong Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, and Yantai Museum.

Author information




T.L., G.J., M.W. and P.E.T. designed the research. G.J. and R.G. contributed wheat samples from field projects for 14C dating. C.L. measured and photographed the analysed wheat grains. T.L. and P.E.T. constructed the 14C data set and designed the Bayesian chronological model. G.J., R.G., M.W. and O.S. contributed to the introduction, results and discussion sections. T.L., C.L. and P.E.T. wrote the manuscript and generated the figures.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tengwen Long.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Background archaeological information, Bayesian model structure and OxCal code, and OxCal modelling results (including Supplementary Figures 1–2 and Supplementary Table 1)

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table 2

Size (length, width) of charred wheat grains from different regions of Asia and specimens (Shandong) presented in the current study used for comparison in Fig. 2.

Supplementary Table 3

A dataset of wheat-grain-based 14C dates from China.

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Long, T., Leipe, C., Jin, G. et al. The early history of wheat in China from 14C dating and Bayesian chronological modelling. Nature Plants 4, 272–279 (2018).

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