Plant domestication in the Neolithic Near East: The humans-plants liaison
Shahal Abbo a , Avi Gopher b
a The Levi Eshkol School of Agriculture, RH Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food & Environment, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot, 7610001, Israel
b Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, 6997801, Israel
Plant domestication is often discussed as a form of mutualism between humans and crop plants. Ethnographies provide records of a multitude of adaptive strategies employed by human societies with varying degrees of reliance on manipulation of wild plant resources. These manipulations have included vegetation clearance, controlled burning, pruning, coppicing, tilling, sowing and more. Such activities can be viewed as cultivation of wild plants (known as “pre-domestication cultivation” in the Near Eastern research milieu, or in a somewhat different framework as “low level food production”), often considered a necessary step leading to domestication. Since cultivated fields are constructed niches, Niche Construction Theory (NCT) has recently been recruited to provide a theoretical evolutionary framework for explaining plant domestication. This review on plant domestication in the Near East discusses elements that we consider intimately related to the abovementioned trajectories of thought: the concept of “predomestication cultivation”; the view that domesticated plants arose via evolutionary mutualism; and the conceptualization of plant domestication in terms of NCT. We review and discuss the logic of these approaches, their biological, cultural and archaeological foundations; and highlight their association with the old “dump heap” scenario. We argue that based on the biology of the Near Eastern crop plants and the available archaeological evidence, these approached and respective arguments are inadequate.
Rather, we contend that the biological idiosyncrasies of the Near Eastern founder crops depict a picture of a knowledge-based and conscious domestication that emanated from the newly emerging Neolithic world view and Humans-World relationships.
Keywords: Antidomestication, Coevolution, Human agency, Low-level food production, Mutualism, Near East Niche construction theory, Plant domestication, Pre-domestication cultivation