BEIJING, March 6 (Xinhua) -- An international research team has found 5,200-year-old common wheat and naked barley grains from the Altai Mountains in central Asia, providing the earliest evidence of the eastward spread of wheat cultivation and the steppe route of east-west communication.
The ancient people moved these crops across Eurasia about 1,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to the study by archaeologists, biologists and paleoclimatologists of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) in Germany and Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.
Cereal crops, notably common wheat and naked barley, originated in the Fertile Crescent of southwest Asia, while millet originated in what is today's northern China. These crops spread across the ancient world and became integrated into complex farming systems that used crop-rotation cycles.
There were three main land routes in the early days of Eurasia: the southern Himalayan, the oasis in central Asia to the Tarim basin, and the steppes in north Asia. But it was previously not clear when and how this process occurred because of lack of data.
Zhou Xinying, of the IVPP, said the new study shows that as early agricultural populations in western Asia and Iran spread, common wheat and naked barley reached the foothills of the western Tianshan Mountains in central Asia around 5,500 years ago, and the early agriculture and animal husbandry populations in central Asia may have directed the dispersal of productive economies northward to the Altai Mountains around 5,200 years ago.
Then the agro-pastoralists in the Altai Mountains may have transferred common wheat and naked barley into the Hexi Corridor, from where these crops eventually dispersed into the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, as well as to the middle and lower basin of the Yellow River, Zhou said.
The study was recently published online in the journal Nature Plants.