The protracted domestication model posits that wild cereals in southwest Asia were cultivated over millennia before the appearance of domesticated cereals in the archaeological record. These ‘pre-domestication cultivation’ activities are widely understood as entailing annual cycles of soil tillage and sowing and are expected to select for domestic traits such as non-shattering ears. However, the reconstruction of these practices is mostly based on indirect evidence and speculation, raising the question of whether pre-domestication cultivation created arable environments that would select for domestic traits. We developed a novel functional ecological model that distinguishes arable fields from wild cereal habitats in the Levant using plant functional traits related to mechanical soil disturbance. Our results show that exploitation practices at key pre-domestication cultivation sites maintained soil disturbance conditions similar to untilled wild cereal habitats. This implies that pre-domestication cultivation did not create arable environments through regular tillage but entailed low-input exploitation practices oriented on the ecological strategies of the competitive large-seeded grasses themselves.
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All data used to perform the discriminant analyses and their outputs are given in the Supplementary Materials. The modern floristic datasets and the archaeobotanical data analysed during the current study are not publicly available due to ongoing analyses of the samples and raw data. Upon completion of all analyses the raw datasets will be made publicly available. Parts of the modern floristic datasets are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. The raw data on which the analyses from Çatalhöyük are based are fully published and publicly accessible in Green37.
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We thank H. Leschner, N. Manela, Y. Melamed and T. Avin-Wittenberg for their great support in the preparation and realization of the vegetation surveys that represent the basis of this study. We also thank S. Bowles and G. Larson for valuable comments on previous drafts of this article. This research was supported by an AHRC studentship (2013–2016; L.G.) and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship from the European Commission (grant number 838395; A.W.).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Weide, A., Green, L., Hodgson, J.G. et al. A new functional ecological model reveals the nature of early plant management in southwest Asia. Nat. Plants 8, 623–634 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-022-01161-7