Paper: Dating rice remains through phytolith carbon-14 study reveals domestication at the beginning of the Holocene

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New paper in PNAS about the earliest domestication of rice in China.

Dating rice remains through phytolith carbon-14 study reveals domestication at the beginning of the Holocene

Phytolith remains of rice (Oryza sativa L.) recovered from the Shangshan site in the Lower Yangtze of China have previously been recognized as the earliest examples of rice cultivation. However, because of the poor preservation of macroplant fossils, many radiocarbon dates were derived from undifferentiated organic materials in pottery sherds. These materials remain a source of debate because of potential contamination by old carbon. Direct dating of the rice remains might serve to clarify their age. Here, we first validate the reliability of phytolith dating in the study region through a comparison with dates obtained from other material from the same layer or context. Our phytolith data indicate that rice remains retrieved from early stages of the Shangshan and Hehuashan sites have ages of approximately 9,400 and 9,000 calibrated years before the present, respectively. The morphology of rice bulliform phytoliths indicates they are closer to modern domesticated species than to wild species, suggesting that rice domestication may have begun at Shangshan during the beginning of the Holocene.

Source: Dating rice remains through phytolith carbon-14 study reveals domestication at the beginning of the Holocene

See also: Radiocarbon dating of phytolith traces rice domestication to 10,000 years ago (CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES HEADQUARTERS, 02 June 2017)

Rice in Madagascar point to Southeast Asian origin

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Excavations in Madagascar. Source: ABC Science 20160531

A new paper in PNAS describes the first tangible evidence that Madagascar was colonised by Southeast Asians who probably spoke an Austronesian language. Charred rice and mung beans found in Madagascar are slightly older than their first appearance in East Africa.

Excavations in Madagascar. Source: ABC Science 20160531

Excavations in Madagascar. Source: ABC Science 20160531

Ancient crops provide first archaeological signature of the westward Austronesian expansion
PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1522714113

Ancient rice ‘first evidence’ Madagascan ancestors crossed Indian Ocean from South-East Asia
ABC Science, 31 May 2016


The Austronesian settlement of the remote island of Madagascar remains one of the great puzzles of Indo-Pacific prehistory. Although linguistic, ethnographic, and genetic evidence points clearly to a colonization of Madagascar by Austronesian language-speaking people from Island Southeast Asia, decades of archaeological research have failed to locate evidence for a Southeast Asian signature in the island’s early material record. Here, we present new archaeobotanical data that show that Southeast Asian settlers brought Asian crops with them when they settled in Africa. These crops provide the first, to our knowledge, reliable archaeological window into the Southeast Asian colonization of Madagascar. They additionally suggest that initial Southeast Asian settlement in Africa was not limited to Madagascar, but also extended to the Comoros. Archaeobotanical data may support a model of indirect Austronesian colonization of Madagascar from the Comoros and/or elsewhere in eastern Africa.

News story here; download the article here.

New book: Rice and Language Across Asia: Crops, Movement, and Social Change

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This special double-issue on the deep history of rice in Asia has just appeared in print, with a number of contributions deriving from the multi-disciplinary international symposium “Rice and Language Across Asia: Crops, Movement, and Social Change,” recently held at Cornell University, in Ithaca, on Sept. 22-25, 2011 (see The authors come from a variety of disciplines, including archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, genetics, and more:

Rice (ISSN 1939-8425), Volume 4, Numbers 3-4 / December 2011. Special Issue: “Rice and Language Across Asia: Crops, Movement, and Social Change.”
Guest Editors: Magnus Fiskesjö and Yue-ie Caroline HSING
Table of Contents:

Preface: “Rice and Language Across Asia”, by Magnus Fiskesjö and Yue-ie Caroline Hsing, pp. 75-77

Pathways to Asian Civilizations: Tracing the Origins and Spread of Rice and Rice Cultures, by Dorian Q. Fuller, pp. 78-92

The Checkered Prehistory of Rice Movement Southwards as a Domesticated Cereal—from the Yangzi to the Equator, by Peter Bellwood, pp. 93-103

Millets, Rice, Social Complexity, and the Spread of Agriculture to the Chengdu Plain and Southwest China, by Jade d’Alpoim Guedes, pp. 104-113

Rice in Thailand: The Archaeobotanical Contribution, by Cristina Castillo, pp. 114-120

How Many Independent Rice Vocabularies in Asia?, by Laurent Sagart, pp. 121-133

Proto-Tibeto-Burman Grain Crops, by David Bradley, pp. 134-141

Rice in Dravidian, by Franklin Southworth, pp. 142-148

Northeast Asian Linguistic Ecology and the Advent of Rice Agriculture in Korea and Japan, by John Whitman, pp. 149-158

A Genetic Focus on the Peopling History of East Asia: Critical Views, by Alicia Sanchez-Mazas, Da Di and María Eugenia Riccio, pp. 159-169

Evaluation of Genetic Variation Among Wild Populations and Local Varieties of Rice, by Takashige Ishii, Takashi Hiraoka, Tomoyuki Kanzaki, Masahiro Akimoto and Rieko Shishido, et al., pp. 170-177

Studies on Ancient Rice—Where Botanists, Agronomists, Archeologists, Linguists, and Ethnologists Meet, by Jaw-shu Hsieh, Yue-ie Caroline Hsing, Tze-fu Hsu, Paul Jen-kuei Li and Kuang-ti Li, et al., pp. 178-183

The Origin and Spread of Early-Ripening Champa Rice: Its Impact on Song Dynasty China, by Randolph Barker, pp. 184-186

Discussant’s Remarks: Reviving Ethnology to Understand the Rice Neolithic, by Richard A. O’Connor, pp. 187-189

(via Magnus Fiskesjö by email)

The origins of Asian rice

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9 June 2006 (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) – A study tracing the origins of Asian wild rice and rice cultivation has determined that rice was likely to be domesticated in East India-Myanmar-Thailand (Orzya sativa indica) and Southeren China (Orzya sativa japonica). Abstract is cited here, full text requires subscription.

Phylogeography of Asian wild rice, Oryza rufipogon, reveals multiple independent domestications of cultivated rice, Oryza sativa
Jason P. Londo, Yu-Chung Chiang, Kuo-Hsiang Hung, Tzen-Yuh Chiang, and Barbara A. Schaal

Cultivated rice, Oryza sativa L., represents the world’s most important staple food crop, feeding more than half of the human population. Despite this essential role in world agriculture, the history of cultivated rice’s domestication from its wild ancestor, Oryza rufipogon, remains unclear. In this study, DNA sequence variation in three gene regions is examined in a phylogeographic approach to investigate the domestication of cultivated rice. Results indicate that India and Indochina may represent the ancestral center of diversity for O. rufipogon. Additionally, the data suggest that cultivated rice was domesticated at least twice from different O. rufipogon populations and that the products of these two independent domestication events are the two major rice varieties, Oryza sativa indica and Oryza sativa japonica. Based on this geographical analysis, O. sativa indica was domesticated within a region south of the Himalaya mountain range, likely eastern India, Myanmar, and Thailand, whereas O. sativa japonica was domesticated from wild rice in southern China.