Buckwheat: a crop from outside the major Chinese domestication centres? A review of the archaeobotanical, palynological and genetic evidence.

31 Oct 2017

The two cultivated species of buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum (common buckwheat) and F. tataricum (Tartary buckwheat) are Chinese domesticates whose origins are usually thought to lie in upland southwestern China, outside the major centres of agricultural origins associated with rice and millet. Synthesis of the macro- and microfossil evidence for buckwheat cultivation in China found just 26 records across all time periods, of which the majority were pollen finds. There are few or no identifying criteria distinguishing F. esculentum and F. tataricum for any sample type. The earliest plausibly agricultural Fagopyrum occurs in northern China from the mid 6th millennium cal bp. The archaeobotanical record requires reconciliation with biogeographic and genetic inferences of a southwestern Chinese origin for buckwheat. Scrutiny of the genetic data indicates limitations related to sampling, molecular markers and analytical approaches. Common buckwheat may have been domesticated at the range margins of its wild progenitor before its cultivation expanded in the north, mediated by changing ranges of wild species during the Holocene and/or by cultural exchange or movement of early agriculturalists between southwest China, the Chengdu Plain and the southern Loess Plateau. Buckwheat probably became a pan-Eurasian crop by the 3rd millennium cal bp, with the pattern of finds suggesting a route of westward expansion via the southern Himalaya to the Caucasus and Europe.