Distribution of Wild Wheats and Barley

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Science  02 Sep 1966:
Vol. 153, Issue 3740, pp. 1074-1080
DOI: 10.1126/science.153.3740.1074


If we accept the evidence at face value, we are led to conclude that emmer was probably domesticated in the upper Jordan watershed and that einkorn was domesticated in southeast Turkey. Barley could have been domesticated almost anywhere within the arc bordering the fertile crescent. All three cereals may well have been harvested in the wild state throughout their regions of adaptation long before actual farming began. The primary habitats for barley, however, are not the same as those for the wheats. Wild barley is more xerophytic and extends farther downslope and into the steppes and deserts along the wadis. It seems likely that, while all three early cereals were domesticated within an are flanking the fertile crescent, each was domesticated in a different subregion of the zone.

Lest anyone should be led to think the problem is solved, we wish to close with a caveat. Domestication may not have taken place where the wild cereals were most abundant. Why should anyone cultivate a cereal where natural stands are as dense as a cultivated field? If wild cereal grasses can be harvested in unlimited quantities, why should anyone bother to till the soil and plant the seed? We suspect that we shall find, when the full story is unfolded, that here and there harvesting of wild cereals lingered on long after some people had learned to farm, and that farming itself may have orig inated in areas adjacent to, rather than in, the regions of greatest abundance of wild cereals.

We need far more specific information on the climate during incipient domestication and many more carefully conducted excavations of sites in the appropriate time range. The problem is far from solved, but some knowledge of the present distribution of the wild forms should be helpful.