Journey to the east: Diverse routes and variable flowering times for wheat and barley en route to prehistoric China.

07 Feb 2018

Today, farmers in many regions of eastern Asia sow their barley grains in the spring and harvest them in the autumn of the same year (spring barley). However, when it was first domesticated in southwest Asia, barley was grown between the autumn and subsequent spring (winter barley), to complete their life cycles before the summer drought. The question of when the eastern barley shifted from the original winter habit to flexible growing schedules is of significance in terms of understanding its spread. This article investigates when barley cultivation dispersed from southwest Asia to regions of eastern Asia and how the eastern spring barley evolved in this context. We report 70 new radiocarbon measurements obtained directly from barley grains recovered from archaeological sites in eastern Eurasia. Our results indicate that the eastern dispersals of wheat and barley were distinct in both space and time. We infer that barley had been cultivated in a range of markedly contrasting environments by the second millennium BC. In this context, we consider the distribution of known haplotypes of a flowering-time gene in barley, Ppd-H1, and infer that the distributions of those haplotypes may reflect the early dispersal of barley. These patterns of dispersal resonate with the second and first millennia BC textual records documenting sowing and harvesting times for barley in central/eastern China.