Researchers from the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield have shed light on how hunter-gatherers first began farming and how crops were domesticated to depend on humans.
Domesticated crops have been transformed almost beyond recognition in comparison with their wild relatives — a change that happened during the early stages of farming in the Stone Age. For grain crops like cereals, the hallmark of domestication is the loss of natural seed dispersal — seeds no longer fall off plants but have become dependent on humans or machines to spread them.
Professor Colin Osborne, from the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield, said: “We know very little about how agriculture began, because it happened 10,000 years ago — that’s why a number of mysteries are unresolved. For example why hunter-gatherers first began farming, and how were crops domesticated to depend on people.
“One controversy in this area is about the extent to which ancient peoples knew they were domesticating crops. Did they know they were breeding domestication characteristics into crops, or did these characteristics just evolve as the first farmers sowed wild plants into cultivated soil, and tended and harvested them?”
The new research, published in the journal Evolution Letters, shows the impact of domestication on vegetable seed size.