News FocusArchaeology in China

Millet on the Move

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Science  21 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5943, pp. 942-943
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_942

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What was the most important grain in ancient China? If you said rice, you'd be wrong, according to some archaeologists, who believe lowly millet served as the staple grain that allowed Chinese civilization to flourish in ancient times. Although rice began to be domesticated in the southeast by 7000 B.C.E. or even earlier, millet was grown all across China in the preurban era, from the north to the southeastern coast. And whereas important goods and technologies like wheat, bronze, horses, and chariots all flowed from West to East starting some 4000 years ago, perhaps across China's westernmost provinces (see main text), there is now intriguing evidence that millet traveled the other way. Some researchers say the grain was first domesticated in northern China as early as 8000 B.C.E. and made its way to the Black Sea region of Europe by 5000 B.C.E. If so, it would be a sign of far earlier and extensive connections—going both ways—across the vast Eurasian landmass.