Evidence for mid-Holocene rice domestication in the Americas

  • Nature Ecology & Evolutionvolume 1pages16931698 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0322-4
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The development of agriculture is one of humankind’s most pivotal achievements. Questions about plant domestication and the origins of agriculture have engaged scholars for well over a century, with implications for understanding its legacy on global subsistence strategies, plant distribution, population health and the global methane budget. Rice is one of the most important crops to be domesticated globally, with both Asia (Oryza sativa L.) and Africa (Oryza glaberrima Steud.) discussed as primary centres of domestication. However, until now the pre-Columbian domestication of rice in the Americas has not been documented. Here we document the domestication of Oryza sp. wild rice by the mid-Holocene residents of the Monte Castelo shell mound starting at approximately 4,000 cal. yr bp, evidenced by increasingly larger rice husk phytoliths. Our data provide evidence for the domestication of wild rice in a region of the Amazon that was also probably the cradle of domestication of other major crops such as cassava (Manihot esculenta), peanut (Arachis hypogaea) and chilli pepper (Capsicum sp.). These results underline the role of wetlands as prime habitats for plant domestication worldwide.

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The research was funded by the European Research Council project ‘Pre-Columbian Amazon-Scale Transformations’ (ERC-CoG 616179) to J.I. L.M.H. was funded by CAPES (Ministry of Education, Brazil) and Monte Castelo fieldwork was funded by grants from the Brazilian National Science Development Council (CNPq-307179/2013-3) and The National Geographic Society (W243-12) to E.G.N.

Author information


  1. Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 4QE, UK

    • Lautaro Hilbert
    •  & José Iriarte
  2. Museo de Arqueologia e Etnologia, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo-SP, 05508-900, Brazil

    • Eduardo Góes Neves
    •  & Francisco Pugliese
  3. Department of Geography, Northumbria University Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST, UK

    • Bronwen S. Whitney
  4. Departamento de Arqueologia, Universidade Federal do Oeste de Pará, Santarém-PA, 68035-110, Brazil

    • Myrtle Shock
  5. Departamento de Genética, Escola Superior de Agricultura “Luiz de Queiroz”, Universidade de São Paulo, Piracicaba-SP, 13418-900, Brazil

    • Elizabeth Veasey
  6. Laboratório de Arqueologia dos Trópicos, Universidade Federal de Rondônia, Porto Velho-RO, 76801-974, Brazil

    • Carlos Augusto Zimpel


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L.H., J.I. and E.G.N. designed research; E.G.N., F.P., M.S. and C.A.Z. performed archaeological excavations at Monte Castelo; L.H. undertook phytolith analysis; B.S.W. carried out statistical analyses; E.V. provided Oryza reference collection samples for analysis; J.I. and L.H. led the writing of the paper with inputs from all other authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to José Iriarte.

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