Prehistoric Agriculture in China: Food Globalization in Prehistory

WashU affiliated authors: Xinyi Liu (Dept. of Anthropology)

Abstract: It is commonly recognised that farming activities initiated independently in different parts of the world between approximately 12,000 and 8,000 years ago. Two of such agricultural centres is situated in modern-day China, where systems based on the cultivation of plants and animal husbandry has developed. Recent investigations have shown that between 5000 and 1500 cal. BCE, the Eurasian and African landmass underpinned a continental-scale process of food “globalisation of staple crops. In the narrative of food domestication and global food dispersal processes, China has played a particularly important role, contributing key staple food domesticates such as rice, broomcorn, and foxtail millet. The millets dispersed from China across Eurasia during the Bronze Age, becoming an essential food for many ancient communities. In counterpoise, southwest Asian crops, such as wheat or barley, found new habitats among the ancient populations of China, dramatically changing the course of its development. The processes of plant domestication and prehistoric agriculture in China have been a topic of extensive research, review, and discussion by many scholars around the world, and there is a great deal of literature on these topics. One of the consequences of these discoveries concerning the origins of agriculture in China has been to undermine the notion of a single centre of origin for civilisation, agriculture, and urbanism, which was a popular and widespread narrative in the past. It has become clear that agricultural centres of development in China were concurrent with, rather than after, the Fertile Crescent.