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3 July 2016
New origins for farmed rice

The earliest evidence of domesticated rice has been found in China, and it's about 9,000 years old.
     Working with three researchers from the Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Zhejiang Province, China, anthropological archaeologist and University of Toronto Mississauga professor Gary Crawford found the ancient domesticated rice fragments in a probable ditch in the lower Yangtze valley, south and southwest of Shanghai. The remains document an early stage of rice domestication and the ecological setting in which early cultivation was taking place. The rice plant remains also had characteristics of japonica rice, the short grain rice used in sushi that today is cultivated in Japan and Korea - the first confirmation that it grew in this region of China.
     Archaeological evidence for the initial steps leading to domesticated rice in China is elusive.
     Crawford and his colleagues spent about three years exploring the five-hectare site, called Huxi, situated in a flat basin about 100 metres above sea level. Digging 1.5 metres below the ground, the team also unearthed sophisticated pottery and stone tools, as well as animal bones, charcoal and other plant seeds.
     This study builds on Crawford's previous research into early agriculture in China, in which he examines ancient settlements, tools, and plant and animal management efforts in different regions of the country, to better understand the transition from hunters and gatherers to farmers.
     "The question I ultimately want to answer is, what pushed them to move wholeheartedly into the farming regime? Why did they reduce their emphasis on hunting and expand into crop production?" Crawford says. "People did what they needed to do to make their lives more manageable and sustainable, and the unintended consequence was farming. With this rice discovery, we're seeing the first stages of that shift."

Edited from EurekAlert!, PhysOrg (22 June 2016), Nature (21 June 2016)

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